Put It In Cruise Control
How many of you, dear readers, remember the last lines in the first Mission: Impossible, when the flight attendant offers Ethan Hunt a selection of video cassettes for his viewing pleasure during his flight?
Excuse me. Mr. Hunt? Would you like to watch a movie?
As established through the film, the IMF (Impossible Missions Force) sends out their missions recorded in detail on these video cassette that self-destruct seconds after viewing. So, a flight attendant asking Ethan Hunt whether he wants to watch a movie is suspect to him, and rightly so. I always liked his answer:
Oh, uh, no, thank you.
There’s humor in that. He’s just saved the world. Against impossible odds. He wants a break. But Hunt’s interest is also piqued. You see, Ethan Hunt is a man who will always take the mission. Regardless of how impossible that mission is. He’s just that sort of guy. Five movies later (with a sixth just about to breach the muzzle), and we’ve seen Ethan through increasingly insurmountable, outrageous missions. And each and every time, Hunt harnesses his tenacity, his courage, his never-say-die attitude and achieves his directive. (If you wonder why I enjoy this franchise so much, I offer you that last line. Oh, and see post here.)
Mostly Ethan Hunt just doesn’t take no for an answer. When he’s told it can’t be done, he gets that special gleam in his eye. You know the one; the one that says with crystal clarity, Oh, yeah? I love that about him.
I sort of feel like that part of Ethan’s personality is firmly rooted in the personality of the man who portrays him on screen. Not only do I get the impression that Tom Cruise enjoys tackling impossible missions himself (Have you see the teasers for Mission: Impossible Fallout? HALO jumps, helicopter stunts, and broken ankles, oh, my), I think he looks for that same tenacity in the characters he chooses to portray on screen. And, hand in hand with that tenacity is an unorthodox, nonconformist attitude that isn’t afraid to try something outside of the box. And remain seemingly nonplussed while doing so (all right, not always, but most of the time).
One such iconic character is Pete Mitchell, also know as Maverick, from Top Gun.
I think there are invaluable life lessons in Top Gun. I know. I know. You’re already thinking, Top Gun? Really? This girl must be losing her marbles. But, hear me out.
Aside from fantastic flying sequences courtesy of the U.S. Navy, this film is a rich tapestry, weaving together many truths seamlessly and with great skill.
Maverick is one pilot in the top one percentile of Navy pilots. In culinary terms, he’s the creme de la creme. When asked who is the best in the newly arrived class at Top Gun, he confidently, and cockily, declares, I Am. And, he lives up to his hype. He’s dangerous. He’s reckless. He pushes limits. He is overly aggressive. He’s, well, he’s Maverick. Define the word and you’ll understand how he flies.
But then something happens. He loses control of his plane, and, in the course of ejecting, his Radio Intercept Officer (RIO) and best friend, Goose, is killed. No plane. No RIO. Bam. Bam. Double-whammy.
Suddenly the very core of who Maverick is gets shaken. He’s the best, isn’t he? But when he gets back in a plane, he doesn’t fly like himself. He’s too afraid. He can’t push his limits. He can’t engage. His instructors try to shake him out of it. So do his fellow pilots. But, it’s a no go.
He still possesses all the skill he had before Goose’s death. That hasn’t changed. He’s prepared and trained and experienced. There’s nothing he’s facing that he doesn’t know how to do. But because fear has gotten in and taken hold of his mind, he doubts everything he once knew to be certain. He doesn’t trust his core.
What do you do when your afraid? When you’ve been shaken to the bedrock of yourself?
Well, dear reader, you do what Maverick does. You get out of you comfort zone. Remember, fear thrives in the comfort zone (see post here).
Maverick gets back in the cockpit and flies. And, he’s not just flying a simulated mission. He’s in the nitty and gritty. He’s in the — wait for it— danger zone. He’s afraid, but he does it anyway. And Maverick achieves his directive. He slays his giant; he wins his battle. But it all begins and ends with him; he decided his endgame, and by doing so, accomplished his impossible mission.
Speaking of endgames and impossible missions, I need to mention the tenacity and— quite literally— never-say-die attitude of Major William Cage in Edge of Tomorrow.
Major Cage is a prime example of the indefatigability we’ve come to expect from Tom Cruise’s characters. Alien forces- Mimics- have invaded earth with far reaching, destructive effect. At the start, Cage is a smooth talker who has risen through the military ranks without having seen a single moment of combat. He’s really good at public relations, mostly because he doesn’t want to actually see battle. But the world is on a precipice; the fight is being taken to the enemy and the terms are do or die. Suddenly, Cage is thrust into battle, completely unprepared. He doesn’t even know how to operate his weapon. And because he’d unfit for the fight, he gets killed.
But when Cage is killed, his blood mixed with that of the an Alpha mimic and now, he can reset time back 24 hours. He inadvertently found his enemies only weakness.
Cage goes through an evolution of fortitude and forbearance. He lives the same day over and over, countless times, doing the same thing again and again in the face of certain defeat because there is just the most minuscule fraction of a chance of victory.
Through rigorous consistency, he gets better. And, because he gets better each time, he is able to make real headway to defeat the enemy. Cage becomes steadfast in his pursuit. He is aggressive. Even when he has moments of doubt, he harnesses his CAN DO spirit and soldiers on anyway.
Like Ethan Hunt, Cage always takes the mission.
Many of the truths explored in his films, we’ve talked about here at Whiskers. Getting out of your comfort zone to effect change in your life (see post here). Freeing your mind from doubt and fear (see post here). Trusting your core (see post here). Staying consistent regardless of the circumstances (see post here). Being aggressive and steadfast in your stance (see post here). Identifying and slaying your giants (see post here). These are profound and worthy themes not only to explore, but to incorporate into our lives.
One thing's for certain, Tom Cruise and his characters always accomplish their missions. Even the impossible ones. And, somehow, watching them do it makes me believe I can, too.
As tomorrow is Tom Cruise’s birthday, and I’m a big believer in giving honor where honor is due, I wanted to dedicated this post to him. It is with gratitude and appreciation because a great many of his movies have been a source of encouragement and inspiration to me, particularly to never believe anything is impossible. Not only that, but whenever I’ve read or watched interviews with him, I perceive in him humility and generosity of spirit undergirded by an unstinting sense of professionalism and stellar work ethic. Those are attributes I wish to emulate.
Happy Birthday, Mr. Cruise. May the year ahead be filled with every success. And may you always accomplish your missions, whichever ones you chose to accept.
And, dear readers, not to forget you, what’s your favorite Tom Cruise film? (AND, how many of you are eagerly awaiting the box office release of Mission: Impossible Fallout? I know I am. Practically giddy about it, actually.)
Post Script: Narrowing this list down was very difficult for me. I’ll just give you a few honorable mentions, as I ran out of room to go into detail as to why these are among my family’s favorites:
Far and Away
The Last Samurai
Days of Thunder
A Few Good Men
And, of course, there are the films that have been delightful entertainment-
Knight and Day, I’m looking at you.
Fine, Tropic Thunder, too.
Oh, and Austin Power in Goldmember.
I’ll stop. I think you get the idea.