An Officer and a Gentleman (1982)

an officer and a gentleman 1Lou Gossett Jr. What a performance. He imprints himself on our brains just like the new recruits he berates, pushes, and toughens on a daily basis. He’s inscrutable. We want to hate him. We want him to get his comeuppance.  Yet in the end, we cannot help but appreciate him. We are just like one of his recruits and that’s, in part, why this story works at all.

We’re there in the mud and the mire. We hold our breath in preparation for the latest inspection. Every drill has some consequence. Each failure and each conquest is like one of our own. And the desire for intimacy and love is in us too. This film takes many of its characters through the hell that is Aviation Officer Candidate School. But isn’t it the most trying times that remain the most memorable and truly mold us as human beings? It seems so.

It’s easy not to like the coolly defiant Richard Gere as Zach, even when we know a bit of his past because he can be distant at times. But we learn more about who he really is and as with most people, he grows on us. The same goes with his best buddy  Sid (Keith David) who is well-liked by everyone but realizes he’s been living his life all wrong. Likewise, Paula (Debra Winger) and Lynette (Lisa Blount) the two bodacious gals who have dreamed of dancing the night away with a pair of up and coming cadets, have their own set of problems.

an officer and a gentleman 2Watching An Officer and a Gentleman, it is rather amazing that it succeeds as part romance, part war drama since all its action takes place at an air force cadet school. They haven’t even reached the front yet. There are no explosions or bombs bursting in air. It even shares similarities with Fred Zinneman’s star-studded From Here to Eternity (1953) years before. But that story had far more star power and a climatic event like Pearl Harbor to build the story around. Here there’s nothing quite like that. But it’s not really needed. We are reminded that mankind is inherently interesting and when you throw a bunch of them together under duress it’s a formula for heightened emotions.

an officer and a gentleman 3Certainly, the film functions because it has all the necessary components, a rebellious hero played by Gere, troubled pasts, innumerable odds and the like. However, breaking the film down to its simple plot points hardly gives the film the credit it is due. There are so many intangibles when you watch something on the screen that really gets to your gut. It’s not necessarily manipulation on the part of any one person, director, screenwriter or otherwise. It’s simply the emotional clout that the medium of film is capable of.

As I watch Richard Gere carry his love (Debra Winger) out of her dead-end factory job, rather like a groom taking his bride over the threshold of their new lives, I too cannot help but smile ruefully. This is the schmaltzy ending of passionate love. But that is only one scene bookending so many others. Some that take us in a stranglehold. Others that fill us with contempt or pity. And as with any film, some that feel superfluous. What stays with you though when the screen goes black are the highs and the lows. An Officer and a Gentleman hits them both with ample fortitude.

4/5 Stars

Shadowlands (1993)

2bfce-shadowlands_ver2Starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger with direction by Richard Attenborough, this film chronicles the romance of famed Christian professor and author, C.S. “Jack” Lewis with the American poet Joy Gresham. Jack is by now a respected professor at Oxford and a widely acclaimed lecturer who often speaks on the issue of human suffering. In his personal life, he is rather reserved. He lives with his older brother Warnie and spends times with his colleagues discussing topics of all sorts at the local pub in the evenings. 

It is not until he receives a letter from an American admirer named Joy Gresham that his life seemingly begins to change. He first accepts to meet her only to be gracious, but soon their relationship develops into a close bond. Jack meets Joy’s son Douglas who is enthralled by Narnia. He even offers them a place to stay during the Christmas season, since they have nowhere else to go. Lewis and Gresham are very different people, to say the least. He is a quiet intellectual with the sensibilities of an Englishman, while she is a plain -speaking American who does not mince words. However, these differences bring them closer together because they help each other to view the world in a radically new light.  Jack learns how Gresham’s marriage is going badly and he settles to marry her in a practical union so she and Douglas can stay in England. They do not speak of it much and it hardly seems real. Joy calls him on it realizing for herself that he allows no one to challenge him. There is no vulnerability to him whatsoever.

However, then Joy is diagnosed with bone cancer and slowly but surely she begins to deteriorate. For the second time in his lif,e Lewis understands the anguish that comes when a loved one is suffering. Because, the fact is, he most definitely loves Joy, and it simply took a tragedy to make him realize it. As with any inexplicable suffering, Lewis is tested in his faith, and the reality human suffering has new meaning to him. It is no longer just lecture material, becoming a far more personal process.

Although this film is not so much focused on C.S. Lewis as a Christian theologian or apologist, I think Anthony Hopkins does a wonderful job of portraying him as a kindly and gentle man of faith. He struggles with doubts and fears like every human, but he found something wonderful in his love for Joy which ultimately changed him.

Debra Winger must also be commended because she played well off of Hopkins and even though I have no picture of the real Gresham, Winger seemed to embody her. In some ways, I found her most beautiful when she was bedridden, absent of all makeup and seemingly so pure. It positively tears your heart out watching her son say a tearful goodnight or to look on as Jack stays up with her. This is a better picture of real, unadulterated love than most films can hope to manage because it very rarely becomes a sappy melodrama instead resorting to more deliberate means. As Jack says we live in the “Shadowlands,” but amidst the pain and suffering, love seems to shine through even brighter.

This was such an enlightening film for me because I always envision C.S. Lewis as a scholar and rational thinker, which he was. But he also had a vulnerable human side and this film, as well as A Grief Observed (written after Joy’s death), prove that point. It’s hard not to feel for him and that’s part of the beauty of this story.

4.5/5 Stars