Yesterday afternoon, I left my day job in Manhattan and got on the train to head back to New Jersey where I live. It was on the train where I started to read about the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. I have two young children, a son and a daughter – school shootings cut through the numbing din of American gun violence differently.
I had promised Logan – my son, a budding fan of blockbuster movies – that we’d go to a showing of Top Gun: Maverick that evening. He was excited based on the “cool airplanes” in the trailer. I grappled internally with the question of if it was an appropriate choice to still go to a movie. I decided we should still go. No need to punish him for what has happened.
So we went to the movie. I feel like there are dozens of angles I could take in discussing why the film works so well. There’s the unfathomably excellent stunt pilot work. There’s Tom Cruise giving a startlingly tender performance in his return as Maverick. There’s a touching appearance from Val Kilmer. A star making performance from Glen Powell. Career revitalizing work from Miles Teller. A lovely return to major movies from Jennifer Connelly. Excellent supporting turns from Jon Hamm, Charles Parnell, and others. The awesome retro Gaga song. The pleasant throwback feel. All that doesn’t even get to the film’s most brilliant stroke – structuring an action movie around the beats of a classic sports movie (a rough around the edges “coach” is brought in to meld an underdog team to face an impossible challenge). After the film, Logan and I got in the car and immediately called my mom for our usual post father-son movie check-in with grandma. I came home and tweeted some chippy nonsense about cinema savior Thomas Cruise Mapother IV and peppered my wife with excited reactions.
And then I sat down to start writing about the movie and immediately I felt like an asshole. What the hell am I doing tweeting Scientology jokes? The count of 14 dead children had risen to 18 while I was in the movie. It would later raise to 19, and the two teachers who died trying to protect them. I found myself reading about 10 year old Xavier Lopez who had won an academic award that morning. I learned about 10 year old Nevaeh Bravo who had a sly smile that reminded me of my daughter’s. I texted with many of my close friends who are fathers. We all shared hopelessness… and deep anger.
This morning I got up feeling both angrier and more helpless than I can recall at any point in my life. I trudged to my commute knowing my wife would be taking the kids to their school. If anything happened to my kids, I’d be stuck an hour and a half away. I spent much of my morning reading about the other victims of the shooting. I felt deep rage at the people in our country who care more about the right to own assault rifles than the right of children to not get fucking shot by them in schools. I was incapable of much resembling productivity and I certainly didn’t have the energy to think about movie writing.
It was on the train home today that I realized I’m incredibly grateful for what Top Gun: Maverick gave me. I didn’t understand it in the moment, but for two hours, and a brief window afterwards, I didn’t think at all about the horrors of the real world. I was captivated and elated. I laughed, I got choked up, and I got to see my son leaning in his seat willing the airplanes through perilous canyons. This is hardly serious film criticism, but I’m deeply grateful for the escape and reprieve Maverick gave me. I’ll see it again someday soon. Perhaps I’ll write about it then and try to engage on a more sophisticated level. But for now it stands as a balm of cinematic joy I didn’t realize I needed.
Top Gun: Maverick will be released in theaters on May 27.