07 September 2011

Top Gun - A Character's Arc

by Diane Carlisle

A typical character arc that I enjoy is the lone hero who is flawed yet larger than life. He or she is called to action, a journey. On this journey, they come face to face with their flaws and their fears. Redemption is found when the character falls into compliance with the larger goal.

I enjoyed in Top Gun, near the end when the instructor, Viper, says to Maverick that if he can't find someone who'll fly with him to give him a call, he'd fly with him. This happened after Maverick had lost his best friend during an aerial assault.

The entire movie was about this rebellious pilot, Maverick, who was egotistical but a very good pilot, good enough to make it into a top notch school for pilots, the call to journey forth. His only problem was that he was reckless. He would perform fly-bys at the control towers and his egotistical gimmicks and competitive nature didn't win him many friends at the academy. His best friend was about all he had.

During the aerial assault, he and his friend had to eject from their jet and there was a malfunction in the cockpit. His friend died. Maverick was found not responsible and therefore deemed fit to return to flight school.

However, the assault and subsequent death of his friend took the edge off his game and his not fitting in with the graduating class now elicits sympathy for this character. His arc is at its highest point. This is his beginning path to redemption.

Maverick must prove himself worthy as a team player. He must serve his role. It's not all about him and his win; it's about winning as a team. Now, he was humble and we want him to succeed. We want him to play by the rules, though he was larger than life in the beginning of the movie, the beginning of the arc for this character.

After completion of their course, a critical top secret mission summons the graduating class into a battle. In this climactic, confrontational combat scene, Maverick takes action where needed but never leaves his wingman. As a team, the group demonstrates a successful military mission. This, in turn, rewards his compliance and welcomes him into a realm which once rejected him.

What is your favorite character arc, and do you have a movie example to share?


  1. I believe mine (and it's TV, not movies) is Magnum. He and his wife Michelle love each other, but can't be together because of a bigger cause. But the Vietnamese government wants her dead. Vietnam is important to him, as he was a POW there.

    Eventually, they succeed, killing his wife and the little girl he believes is his daughter. He vows revenge when he finds the killer is being swapped to the Vietnamese government. Only as he's executing his revenge, he finds that the killer is being traded for a guy who's been a POW for the better part of 20 years. And if he kills the killer, he will be denying a girl her father, the way he was denied his daughter. (And you become a monster so the monster will not break you.)

    He sights the guy down and his finger rests on the trigger, even starting to squeeze it while a tear runs from his eye, then he stands up and walks away.

    It's all part of a much bigger character arc that starts Magnum as a juvenile, immature beach bum (probably dealing with PTSD) and having him slowly grow into a man who returns to his former life, and take on the responsibility of raising his daughter (who wasn't killed with his wife).

  2. As I see this one, vengeance was the call to journey, Chris! Discovering something larger than himself is the arc, I think, in the path to redemption. In the end, he chose to follow a good deed for the larger goal. :)

    Thanks for sharing!


I welcome feedback, so please leave your thoughts.

Contact Diane


Email *

Message *