' ' Cinema Romantico: The Perry Factor

Monday, July 09, 2007

The Perry Factor

Okay, people, it's time to leave behind the "important questions" addressed in Michael Moore's "Sicko" and move on to an issue that actually matters in this crazy little thing called life.

There isn’t a male alive at the same age as me who did not at one time possess a love affair with “Top Gun”. Several years ago as we drove through Miramar, California (the setting of the movie) late, late at night, my friend Jed and I fondly reminisced about the pilot call signs we invented for ourselves at the height of the movie’s popularity. (Mine was New York. His was Long Beach.) Ask any male around the age of 29 and he can name the main characters by heart. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell. Tom “Iceman” Kazanski. Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood. Goose. Slider. Hollywood. Wolfman. Jester. Viper. Cougar.

But today I’d like to focus on a slightly less well-known character from the ever-memorable “Top Gun” universe. That character?


Now, I’m certain that referencing this character provoked many-a-head-scratch – as it should. But Perry has always been the most interesting and unique character to come out of the 1986 box office champion, at least in retrospect. Who is he? And what does he represent?

I should mention that imdb.com advises his full name is Perry Siedenthal. This is odd because rarely does a movie character without a single line of dialogue get a full name but this only lends to the proof that Perry’s plight is the ultimate movie conundrum.

Let us recall the lone scene in which Perry appears. Maverick and Goose are at the bar with numerous other fighter pilots and Maverick decides to put the “moves” on Charlie (Kelly McGillis). His “moves” come in the form of the “memorable” sing-a-long version of “You’ve Lost that Love and Feelin’”. It appears that Maverick has won her over until Charlie announces her date has arrived. “Perry,” she calls as she tracks down he who Maverick later refers to as “that older guy”. She and Perry sit down at a booth but Charlie quickly departs the booth to visit the restroom. Maverick “slyly” slips into the bathroom and this is where he calls Perry “that older guy” and advises he wants to save Charlie from “making a mistake” with him. Moments later, Charlie departs the bathroom, passes Goose and states, “Your friend was wonderful.” End scene.

And that’s where the questions begin to pile up – most importantly, what the hell happened to Perry? She “gets it on” with Maverick in the bathroom and then just ditches “that older guy”? Or does she return to the table and tell Perry what just happened? Or does she return to the table and go on as if nothing happened? Is she consumed by guilt and remorse? And who is Perry, exactly? Her boyfriend? A one time date? A guy she’s seen a couple times? A mere dinner companion? Does she simply leave the restaurant and never talk to him again? Or does she leave and call him later with an excuse? Is Perry angered by this? Or does he just brush it off? Is this occurrence common with their relationship? If they actually are dating, does she end it right then and there? Or does she indicate that she’s “confused” and needs “some time” in order to “think about things”? Is she still seeing him while she and Maverick are doing their thing? Or does she break up with him after she and Maverick have their first date? Or at a later point? I want answers to these questions, damn it. You don’t give a character a first and last name if he’s just a lazy screenwriter’s device to get the girl away from the guy for a brief interlude. There’s more to Perry. I’m convinced of it.

This is not the same as other unanswered cinematic questions. This is not the same in any way as the oft-posed (and completely idiotic) question regarding the lax security in the hospital at the end of “Million Dollar Baby”. Why? The hospital's lax security has nothing to do with the STORY. But Perry has EVERYTHING to do with the story. We cannot truly understand what type of person Charlie is and thus if she's a worthy love interest for our hero if we don’t understand Perry. And how can we understand Perry if all he gets are a couple long shots and no words?

In films such as “Titanic” and “Wedding Crashers” the film-makers take great care in presenting the alternate love interests as smug morons (however cartoonish and over-the-top they may be) to ensure they do not earn our sympathy and we cheer when proper leads get together. But Perry receives nothing – not even a line – not even a sketch of a personality. All we get is Maverick referring to him as “that older guy”. Is that solitary line meant to create our aversion toward Perry?

Clearly, we’re meant to assume that Maverick and Charlie live happily ever after. But what are we meant to think of poor Perry? Is he sitting in that same Miramar bar, night after night, pounding back cocktails, still seething? Was he merely an unwitting pawn in Charlie's game? Or was Perry an arrogant womanizer? Was Charlie, in fact, the pawn in Perry's game? We don’t know, do we? And, ever so tragically, we never will.

Most movie fans may only ever remember him as “that older guy”. But Cinema Romantico will remember him another way – the proper way – as cinema’s greatest enigma.


Anonymous said...

Perry, a logistics officer, is the ex-husband of Charlie's friend from college, Susan Branchfield (maiden name). Perry and Charlie had always gotten along, and they went out for a couple drinks becuase she was just stationed at Miramar.

Years later, after Maverick and Charlie's star-crossed marriage crashed and burned (you're two-for-two now, Maverick!), she called Perry up one night, just hoping for a familiar voice. After hours of catching-up and comiserating, they agreed to meet up if they were ever stationed in the same place again.

Through the years, they kept in touch. In 1997, he retired from the Navy, and moved to Washington, D.C. after having been offered a job as an advisor to the House Committee on Military Affairs. Three months later, Charlie found herself posted to a post in the Pentagon. In another bar, they met again.

Romance blossomed. By this point, Charlie had an engagement fall apart ("dodged another bullet," she would say with a laugh). They found their souls within each other, and they were happy.

Then she was convicted of espianoge for her role in selling military secrets first to the Soviet Union and then later to the Russian Republic.

Wretched Genius said...

1. I am one of those sad few who were never very entertained by "Top Gun," yet were somehow ridiculously captivated by "Iron Eagle." Something within my mind is clearly broken.

2. For the unenlightened, a name has been given to represent characters who are caught in this situation: The Baxter. Baxters are those men who exist peripheral to the main love story, and normally take the form of the boring boyfriend/fiance/date. They are not to be confused with the snobby, asshole boyfriend/fiance/date. There really isn't anything wrong with Baxters, they just aren't as interesting as the leading man. Yet we are expected to feel no sympathy with them when they are left alone when their women ditches them for the attractive guy that she had sex with in a dimly-lit bedroom scene 30 minutes prior (and we're supposed to feel good for her, even though she already cheated on the poor Baxter right in front of us).

There was a movie made solely about this character, of course entitled "The Baxter." It's not a great film, but it's amusing and has an original comedic idea: it begins with the Baxter being ditched at the alter, then follows what happens to him afterwards.

Anonymous said...

The other day, I overheard an approximately 29-year-old man call a toddler, presumably his son, "Maverick." As in, "Come on, Maverick, let's eat a popsicle" or something of the sort. I shall never again underestimate the power of Top Gun.


The Fab Miss B said...

I don't think we need to care about Perry. Its totally not the point. The point is Maverick is being an arrogant douche and she is a glamorous and sophisticated woman who sees thousands of these flight school pricks in her time. The capper to all of this comes the next day when she marches in and he realizes that she is actually his instructor. He has to learn to take it down a notch before he can get into her pants, and being Tom Cruise, he finds this difficult to do. (Sigh, I do love this movie! Remember Meg Ryan and Goose? they were so in love.)