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Big Guns: The Hard-Body Spectacle in the Action Classic 'Predator'

An Unrealistic Representation of Masculinity

With the release date of Shane Black’s reboot of the 1987 action classic, The Predator, once again being reportedly pushed back, it’s a better time than ever to write about a particular theme that dominates the original movie's aesthetic; guns, guns, and guns! Yes, there are some comically huge guns in this film, but they are only a phallic extension of the gargantuan muscles that are firing them. Of course, I’m referring to the film's far from subtle representation of muscular masculinity.

Schwarzenegger''s Guns

Schwarzenegger''s Guns

Objectified Bodies in Action

The idea of having a spectacular body on-screen that draws the camera, and essentially the spectator, to gaze upon it tends to be an objectification of a passive feminity. Yvonne Tasker argues that ‘[n]ear-naked action heroes… offer the body as to-be-looked-at whilst refusing the ‘femininity’ implied by that quite passive position.’ (1993: 77) However, how Hollywood action films of the Reagan era would effectively revert this passivity was to always portray the body in action.

According to Lynne Segal, "in accordance with the Lacanian motif, the male look is made to appear active, able to penetrate, and not passive, susceptible to penetration. It conveys the phallic function. Disavowing passivity, images of men are often images of men in action – playing sport, at work – or at least tightening the muscles ready for action." (Segal, 1990: 75)

Throughout his 1980s filmography of action role appearances from Conan the Barbarian (John Milius: 1982) to Red Heat (Walter Hill: 1988), the star of the film, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has often been portrayed barely clothed on-screen but always presented in a manner of action. Predator applies a similar role for the star but is broadened to a male-dominated cast whose bodies are all objectified in action.

Predator's male-centric cast

Predator's male-centric cast

The idea of the spectacular masculine body in action is prominently presented early within the film’s exposition, as the spectator is subjected to arguably the most famous cinematic handshake of all time with the protagonist, Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger), having an arm wrestle with a supporting character Dillon (Carl Weathers).

"Dylan! You son of a..."

"Dylan! You son of a..."

Hyper-Masculinity vs. Frail Femininity

This scene glamourizes the muscular body, particularly the most glamorous of muscles with the arms, more commonly referred to in the bodybuilding community as "the guns!" The use of a close-up focuses on both of the character’s biceps, greased up and veiny. The close-up is continuously edited back to as the central focus within separate cuts to the two characters' faces, thus manipulating the spectator to often gaze at the muscular male body this early in the film's narrative. Furthermore, the objectification is not feminised, as the muscle being objectified is in action, and part of a contest of strength between the two characters.

The spectacle of the masculine bodies within this film is further exaggerated in comparison to the sole female figure in the film, Anna (Elpidia Carrillo). Anna is represented as the passive female, and by contrast, makes the masculine heroes seem even more muscular as she is very frail and skinny. This is emphasized within a scene of narrative problems and complications in the film. The protagonists begin building traps to defend against the antagonist.

The men are separately shot at low-angle close-ups emphasizing their muscular bodies in action as they pull down a large tree using a rope. In comparison to these images, there is a low-angle close-up of Anna struggling to pull down a small tree vine.

Segal argues that "it seems inevitable that these ruling, invasive images of the ‘male,' with the ‘female’ as their subordinated object, form part of the construction of our identities. They provide the meanings which tell us what it is to be an – or not a man." (Segal, 1990: 76)

As well as these images of the body in action, the idea of symbolic representation of the body as ‘phallic’ is also presented within this film. The masculine bodies in Predator and essentially the entire ‘muscular cinema’ period are represented either with exaggerated phallic symbols; giant guns, large machetes for example, or literally as a phallus through the body itself. Dutch is always presented with these symbols during his screen time. It tends to be portrayed with his taste for large Cuban cigars, his long assault rifle, but most crucially through an exaggeration of Schwarzenegger's own physical aesthetic.

Not-so-subtle bicep flex.

Not-so-subtle bicep flex.

Barbara Creed labels the phallic bodies of ‘hard-body’ stars Schwarzenegger and Stallone as the ‘[a]nthropomorphised phallus, a phallus with muscles… They are simulacra of an exaggerated masculinity, the original completely lost to sight, a casualty of the failure of the paternal signifier and the current crisis in master narratives.’ (1987: 65)

Although all male characters are represented with an exaggerated version of masculinity, one character, other than the protagonist, represents an even more extreme example of this hyper-masculinity. Blain (Jesse Ventura) is the largest character in stature. However, Ventura's professional wrestling body is not manipulated by the camera as Schwarzenegger's is. Instead, Blain is presented with some peculiar, t-shirt print-worthy, macho dialogue and the largest phallic symbol within the diegesis with his enormous Gatlin gun that he names "Old Painless."

Judging from the cast of the upcoming reboot, it appears that Shane Black is not attempting to re-present the same muscular masculinity that dominates the visuals of the original. This is a good thing, as in regards to the ongoing discussion of fidelity in adaptation, it is pointless to see the same representations and texts twice. It will be interesting to see Black's representation of masculinity compared to John McTiernan's sleeveless cast that every free weight section globally admires to personate.

Works Cited

  1. Barbara Creed, From Here to Modernity: Feminism and Postmodernism, Screen, Volume 28, Issue 2, 1 March 1987
  2. Susan Jeffords, Hard Bodies: Hollywood Masculinity in the Reagan Era (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1994)
  3. Lynne Segal, Slow Motion: Changing Masculinities, Changing Men (London: Virago Press, 1990)
  4. Yvonne Tasker, Spectacular Bodies: Gender, Genre and the Action Cinema (London: Routledge, 1993)

© 2018 Andrea Sciambarella