No one talks enough about how Schwarzenegger looks on-screen. Or how his face is lit in every shot: one sees what California did in him to make him governor. In 1987 I would have appointed him God; he’s as close to it as we were going to get to it on the human side of the dividing line, at least that year. Since, his star has waned, as they do. It’s good they do. Because he’ll die eventually he’s more beautiful than something cast in marble. Age becomes a thing he plays: the old machine in Terminator 2. The older machine in Terminator 3. The yet older machine in Terminator: Genisys. The retro action hero (among other older models) in The Expendables 1, 2, and 3. Machines get old. Men do too.
It pleases us to love an older model in the age of the new. We watch and we remember the days before cell phones and connectivity and CGI and how our dreams were delivered then. We crack open the shells of who we used to be. We are still in there. It just takes a movie or a game to unlock us. I know I’m just a fetishist like you for it.
The film caricatures itself: these men are big. Most of them are at least my father’s age, a surprising thought. They always have been. Schwarzenegger was nearly forty at the time of filming. I will always think of him this way. All of the actors are still alive except for Kevin Peter Hall, the man inside the suit—you never get to see his face except in an uncredited cameo at the end, on the chopper. He died of complications due to HIV, allegedly the result of a blood transfusion. It’s possible that story’s even true.
The beast itself is unknowable. To call it a beast is false. It is a thing, a being. It thinks. It stinks. It has a code. The thing that elevates the film is that we get its interiority as it tries to understand the way these men relate. What are they to each other? A question not just for it but too for us. They stand so close. They don’t have to speak to communicate. For weeks they only see each other. Perhaps they are all they ever see. It tries to parse a fragment of speech. Later it will mimic it to its advantage. In the novelization the predator can actually shapeshift and take the form of anything without a soul. Did Monette watch action films?
He must have, perhaps to combat grief. Action is a great short-term response to grief. It gives no space to it. It’s fine for the long term too. Keep moving and creating and you’ll never feel what hit you long ago. As Jesse Ventura’s character says, famously, I ain’t got time to bleed. Until you slow.
Ventura is a kind of father. Ditto Schwarzenegger. Sex symbol, sure. Signpost: yes. They’re not playing characters: they play themselves, or whatever there is of themselves, these men always performing. That’s heroism. None of the characters in the film were fathers though they talk a lot about pussy. That’s how twelve-year-olds imagine men talk. Some men do talk this way, perhaps having learned it from films like this. None of the characters have a relationship with a woman, nor any character outside the screen. One makes a joke about his girlfriend that takes a while to land but prompts a wild laugh, recorded by the Predator and replayed later, languorously, inside its mask. Nothing indicates any of these men has even ever met an adult woman until they take one prisoner partway through.
Ander Monson is the author of six books of nonfiction, fiction, and poetry, most recently Letter to a Future Lover (Graywolf). He directs the MFA program at the University of Arizona and edits the magazine DIAGRAM, the New Michigan Press, Essay Daily, and March Fadness. These essays are part of a book he’s working on about the 1987 action movie Predator.