Hollywood never skips an opportunity to engage in self-righteous demagoguery, usually regarding some liberal, touchy-feely cause. This is not a problem, 99 percent of the time. Saving whales is a noble endeavor, and I suppose teaching youngsters that drag queens are also human beings is as well. But this high and mighty impulse becomes ridiculous when actors who spill oceans of blood on screen hold themselves up as champions of pacifism. This is exactly what has happened with the “Demand a Plan” campaign. A very clever video editor inserted footage of stars committing acts of extreme violence into a public service announcement featuring the same household names denouncing hand held weapons. Honestly, what does Reese Witherspoon know about guns and carnage? How much credibility does Cameron Diaz have in a discussion about the AR-15 assault rifle? If the producers of this PSA wanted their video to carry weight with confused and agitated young men who delight in violent media, the demographic most responsible for modern mass shootings, they should have added Michael Biehn to the list; quite possibly the most experienced gunslinger in the “Oh That Guy” area of operation.
Aliens: Biehn has a knack for portraying soldiers and men who serve in some sort of “official” capacity. In “Aliens”, Biehn plays Corporal Dwayne Hicks of the Colonial Marines. I hope that readers will immediately recognize that the Colonial Marines do not exist, or at least experience a moment of confusion when seeing that term. The Colonial Marines do not exist because “Aliens” is set in the distant future, and on a distant planet. Hicks is weary about the mission he and his comrades are sent on from the beginning. His lack of a gung-ho attitude serves him well, as he is the only marine to survive the relentless, two hour, alien onslaught. Hicks is that unique sort of soldier; one who does let combat get in the way of compassion, and vice-versa. After the officers on the squad are massacred by the black, penis-headed beasts, Hicks finds himself next in the chain of command, a responsibility that he accepts, but not happily. “Aliens” is a movie about chaos and survival, and while Hicks might not be the most exciting character, he is the steadiest, and guides the audience through a deep-space nightmare with courage and dignity. The aliens shriek and stalk, the emergency lights confuse and obscure, but Hicks, wounded and exhausted, carries on, as a solid marine does. But again, there are no Colonial Marines.
The Abyss: In “The Abyss”, we see what happens when the brain of a Navy SEAL begins to malfunction. The brain of a Navy SEAL is a disciplined brain: a brain that is not accustomed to malfunctioning. This malfunctioning brain belongs to Lieutenant Coffey, an irritable frogman who is suffering from HPNS, or High Pressure Nervous Syndrome, a disorder brought on by dramatic pressure changes in certain environments, underwater in this case. This entire movie is essentially an experiment aimed at determining whether or not human beings can have a thriving, subaqueous existence. The answer: a resounding “kind of”. Few films have captured the oppression innate in living a submerged life. Of living in an abyss. Different people react to this existence differently, and Coffey—put plainly—goes absolutely fucking nuts. Madness consumes people in a myriad of forms, resulting in a myriad of inexplicable behaviors. In order to cope with the stress of spending weeks at the bottom of the Atlantic, a shaking and sweating Coffey carves deep wounds into his arm with a very serious looking knife, while pretending to listen to what a bunch of civilians—expendable, naive civilians—have to say. While an act like this makes no sense to the sane, the insane understand it perfectly. “I am under enormous stress...and the way to deal with this stress is to exterminate a peaceful alien civilization with a nuclear weapon—but only after cutting myself.” This is how a madman, who also happens to be a trained killer, thinks. Readers, please do not slice yourselves, and if you have nuclear weapons in your possession, turn them over to the authorities at once. “Coffey looks, and he sees Russians. He sees hate and fear.” This is how Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio’s character describes the troubled lieutenant, and it is all that needs to be known about him.
Tombstone: A person who feels that he or she has been wronged by the world, not by an individual or by a group, is a time bomb that cannot be defused. It can only be buried and allowed to detonate at a safe distance from others. A person who wantonly inflicts pain on other people, with no clear motive, may well want “revenge for being born”, as Doc Holiday beautifully describes the truly evil Johnny Ringo, Biehn’s most complex role. Again, we enter the territory of the mad with this character, but Johnny Ringo is not suffering from a disorder caused by submersion. We are never completely sure of what he is suffering from, or if he is suffering at all. “Tombstone” may be the first western to introduce the idea that the “bad guys” are bad because something bad happened to them—not because they were born with black hats and black minds; a bold move to make in a genre defined by its simplicity. However, Biehn is so effective as the classically educated killer, we can well imagine him being born with such a hat and such a mind. “Tombstone” blends the campiness of a Gary Cooper western with the savagery of “Unforgiven.” The results are confusing, but amusing, and flashes of brilliance are found in Val Kilmer’s portrayal of Holiday and in Biehn’s portrayal of Ringo; two tortured characters (cut: who were) destined to come together for the most memorable of deadly duels.
Gunpowder was discovered by Chinese alchemists in the 9th century. Like many history-changing discoveries, these ambitious men stumbled across “black powder” by accident; in this case, while attempting to unearth an ingredient that would lead to immortality. Let me say this again: gunpowder was discovered by people searching for immortality—so it seems that the search for eternal life leads to its opposite. The root word of “gunpowder” has been dominating headlines recently. Guns generate evil, and prevent it. Good men use them to protect, and evil men use them to destroy. This is what makes a discussion about Michael Biehn more topical, if we choose, than it otherwise would be. This actor, through his work, has shown what these instruments can do when placed in the hands of almost every sort of man imaginable. There are enough Johnny Ringos and Lieutenant Coffeys in the world. We need more Corporal Hicks’. It seems we have no other choice.