An exegesis of sexual subtext in “Predator.”
March 25, 2010, 9:46 pm
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An excerpt from Sir J. Thurgood Snorpington-Pittwickett’s classic “Sexual Tyrannosaurus: ‘Predator’ and the masculine struggle with homosexual self-identity,” first published in the 1988 Journal of Psychosexuality and Cinematical Hermeneutics 6, p. 122-254.*

“Using post-freudian dialectical analysis, it becomes clear that the 1987 action film ‘Predator’ is an allegory for the gay male struggle to accept a differing sexual identity than is appropriate in a dominant hetero-normative cultural system. As we see the character Dutch, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger struggle to understand and accept the existence of the Predator, we are actually witnessing the struggle for dominance in the psyche of a gay man who has not yet understood or accepted his own identity.  The jungle of Dutch’s mind is the setting for the fight between his Super-Ego, manifested in the team of hyper-masculine marines, and the Id of the Predator, who represents a pure homosexual archetype.

Dutch is the leader of his team, but just as society determines what conduct is normatively appropriate and thereby holds a strong control over our actions, Dutch’s team correspondingly operates to influence his choices. For example, Jesse “The Body” Ventura expresses disapproval with homosexuality when, on the chopper, he excoriates his teammates as “Slack-jawed faggots.” This works to maintain the hegemony of dominant heterosexual ideology within Dutch’s mind.  In spite of this, the film introduces the internal conflict raging inside of Dutch early on.  When he first meets his old friend, Dillon, played by Carl Weathers, we see hints of his inner turmoil.  Dillon is the model of a masculine authority figure, dressed in a too-broad tie and incredibly tight work shirt.  When he claps hands with Dutch, we see Dutch’s eyes light up at the touch of another man.  The film adoringly focuses on the masculine form, as we see the two gigantic biceps, veins bulging, arm-wrestle for dominance.  This mimics Dutch’s own internal struggle.  Will he embrace his own way, or will he accept society’s dominant conception of appropriate sexual identity?

Figure 1. The camera intimates the subtextual conflict.

By contrast, the Predator, dressed in obvious S&M gear, is a representative for the pure gay self.  The Predator is a literal “alien.”  It is cloaked in rejecting terms of the Other.  It “hunts” man, and the hint of seduction is a terrifying notion to the heterosexual men in the Marine unit.  The Predator is a perfect mimic, recording and repeating the vocalizations of the Marines.  The fact that a homosexual, like the Predator, can seamlessly blend in with what the Marine’s believe is their own private space, is threatening to their hetero-normative hegemony.  The Predator “skins” Dutch’s heterosexual companions, thereby depriving them of their power and revealing, literally, the irrelevance of their self-identity to Dutch’s experience. The Predator slowly kills off Dutch’s team members, who become weaker and weaker, as Dutch comes to express his own homosexuality more vigorously†. The Predator is invisible to Dutch’s companions and even to Dutch himself, just as Dutch’s homosexual feelings are suppressed by his Superego – neither he, nor his friends, are completely aware of his homosexuality.  Once the Predator, as a representative of Dutch’s long-simmering sexual desires, has completely eliminated all hetero-normative influence from Dutch’s mind, does Dutch begin to understand himself.  Dutch’s transformation takes a pivotal step when he is free from society’s stultifying influence.  He is free to indulge in his long-denied desires, EX: wearing makeup (albeit made of mud).

Figure 2. Bondage gear and outsized physical dimensions represent the gay ideal in the personification of The Predator.

However, it is only when he physically fights the Predator, that Dutch can accept his identity.  Although he admires the strength, and well-built frame, of the Predator, he cannot look at it in the face.  The Predator still wears a mask, a symbolic reflection of Dutch’s own mask of heterosexuality covering a homosexual identity.  In a scene reminiscent of a striptease, the Predator removes his mask, showing his true face.  Dutch cannot look away, but still refuses to fully acknowledge the significance of what he is seeing.  He calls the Predator “ugly,” because it is difficult, after years of indoctrination into the dominant ideology, for him to embrace the beauty of his own individual self-worth as a gay man.  However, Dutch’s self-realization cannot be undone.  The Predator can die, by suicide, because Dutch’s Ego has internalized the homosexual feelings the Superego had long neglected.  The unconscious correcting force of the Predator is no longer needed.   The Predator’s knowing laugh communicates to Dutch that he can now attain happiness as his own self-actualized person.  This revelation is symbolized by the orgiastic giant nuclear explosion in the “jungle” of Dutch’s mind.  Reminiscent of an orgasm, the explosion obliterates the allegorical trees disrupting Dutch’s view of himself.  As he flies away in the helicopter, his solemn face affirms that he now understands and accepts his homosexuality.

†Some scholars, see S. Boolsbury-Lickworth (1987) If It Bleeds, We Can Kill It: Romantic Tragedy in Predator, Harvard Press, have pointed to the indigenous woman Anna’s presence in the film to discount this psychosexual interpretation of ‘Predator.’ According to my close analysis, it is clear that Anna represents an attempt by Dutch’s Superego to manifest a hetero-normative relational dynamic. However, Dutch rejects this, since women in his regard are weak, helpless, and unworthy. It is demonstrative that Dutch never consummates this relationship or even expresses anything but remote disdain.”

*Idea originally conceived by a friend, and inspired by this piece by J.G. Ballard, and also by this.