Happy April Fools’ Day.
I’m only half-joking when I say that the 1987 classic Predator is surprisingly deep for an action movie. It’s not exactly the kind of movie you watch hoping for a lot of subtext to analyze. Predator is just trying to tell an interesting story in as efficient a manner as possible, and along the way the filmmakers managed to throw in several cool bits that hint at something deeper going on in the story.
Between its epic one-liners and wall-to-wall action, Predator has some depth that most action films lack. Stick around and let’s see if we can spot the hidden meanings of Predator.
A lot of action movies fall into the same trap. They set up an interesting situation, but then they fail to explore all of its ramifications. For example, Goldeneye brings up the major problem of James Bond having to fight an old friend – one who knows everything about him, MI6, and the way they operate. How does Bond respond to this challenge? By doing what he always does. He doesn’t change his way of thinking or pattern of behavior to throw off the villain. He just does what he always does and hopes for the best. The villain even calls him out on it a few times, but even that’s not enough to convince him to try something different.
Predator, though, does something brilliant. It throws a bunch of action-movie characters into a similar setup as the original Alien film, where they’re being targeted one by one by an alien being, and it sees what happens. The great thing is that the whole way through the movie the characters never stop thinking logically. They’re trying to figure out a solution to the problem, rather than panicking or acting out of character, like in many other horror movies.
Their trip wires on the ground don’t stop the Predator from sneaking into their camp so they deduce that he’s using the trees and completely rethink their defensive strategy as a result. I love how the movie changes directions time after time and keeps the audience guessing about the final result until the very end.
“I Ain’t Got Time to Bleed”
The iconic line, “I ain’t got time to bleed,” sums up ‘80s action movie bravado. But it also serves an intriguing purpose in this particular film. Blain says it in response to a warning from one of his fellow soldiers that Blain has been shot and he’s bleeding.
It turns out to be an ironic statement because later when the Predator strikes, he uses a futuristic weapon that burns a whole completely through Blain’s chest and cauterizes the wound almost immediately. Looks like he really didn’t have time to bleed.
Also, right after Blain’s death, Mac picks up his minigun and shoots everything he’s got at the creature, managing to knick his leg and cause him to bleed a little. Blood serves an important purpose in this movie, showing that the creature can be killed. It turns out that Blain’s line isn’t just a throwaway line, but it actually could be interpreted a few different ways.
I think the filmmakers meant the title of the film to apply to both the alien being and to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character, Dutch. Here are six pieces of evidence from the film that I think build a compelling case for this interpretation:
1. Arrival – The first thing we see in the movie is the Predator and Dutch arriving in the jungles of South America. And they do so in similar ways. A large spaceship flies by Earth and a smaller spaceship detaches and falls into Earth’s atmosphere presumably with the Predator inside. Dutch and his team fly to a small village via helicopter and then they get into jeeps to meet with some military authorities.
2. Arm Wrestling – When Dutch sees Dillon for the first time in years, the first thing he does is grip his hand in a manly duel to see who is stronger. This arm wrestle goes on for a little while until Dillon finally relents and admits Dutch is the stronger one. Later, the Predator blows off the same arm Dillon had used to try to best Dutch and, at the very end, takes Dutch on in hand-to-hand combat. Dillon just can’t win against these guys.
3. Code of Honor – Dutch doesn’t take pleasure in killing; he only strikes back at bad guys who pose a serious threat to him and his team. The Predator kills purely for the thrill of it, but he too has a code he follows that doesn’t allow him to kill targets that are too easy.
For example, after killing dozens of armed soldiers in a raid, Dutch is nearly shot from behind by a woman with a pistol. Rather than killing her, though, he knocks the gun out of her hand and then leaves her lying on the floor because he realizes she doesn’t pose much of a threat. Later, after she’s earned Dutch’s trust, she’s about to pick up a gun and fire at the Predator, but Dutch knows that this would make her an instant target for him because he only hunts armed adversaries. So Dutch kicks the gun out of Anna’s hands and then tells her to escape while he’s now the one lying on the ground from the Predator’s brutal follow-up attack.
4. Camouflage – After setting countless booby traps, Dutch gets impatient and walks out of his shelter to see if he can draw out the Predator. In so doing, he walks right past the Predator without seeing him. The Predator falls into a booby trap right after that. Later, after Dutch learns the Predator’s fatal flaw in his heat vision, he camouflages himself with mud, and the Predator walks right past Dutch without seeing him. He then falls for another booby trap.
5. Using the Trees – The Predator is constantly using the trees to sneak up on his enemies and take them by surprise. During their final battle, Dutch swings between trees and hides under a fallen tree to escape detection by the Predator. He also surprises the Predator with a trap hidden high above in the trees, thus turning the Predator’s own tricks against him.
6. “What the He[ck] Are You?” – Sorry, I know the line is different in the movie, but I just can’t bring myself to swear, even if I’m just quoting someone. It’s one of my little quirks. Anyway, when the Predator and Dutch are looking each other over after their final battle, they both ask each other the same question: What are you? As far as I’m concerned, this is the final bit of evidence that there are two Predators in this movie: Dutch and the alien. The Predator has become the prey and the prey has become the predator. The Predator’s confusion about what humans are shows that we’re nameless aliens to him, just like he is to us.
Mac’s Foresight in Hindsight
After Blain gets killed, his friend Mac mourns his death in a touching (and telling) way. Mac describes an experience in which he and Blain managed to escape a terrible ordeal. This speech is interesting because it perfectly describes what later happens to Dutch and Anna:
“Here we are again, bro, just you and me. Same kind of moon, same kind of jungle. Real number 10, remember? Whole platoon, 32 men, chopped into meat. We walk out, just you and me. Nobody else. Right on top, huh? Not a scratch… You know, whoever got you – they’ll come back again. And when he does I’m gonna cut your name right into him.”
Dutch certainly doesn’t escape unscathed, but Anna is basically unharmed when all is said and done. There isn’t much dialogue in the last quarter of the film, so Mac’s soliloquy acts as an ending narration in hindsight.
Subtle Callback to The Terminator
After 1984’s The Terminator made Arnold Schwarzenegger a household name, he got into a habit of repeating his famous line, “I’ll be back,” in a lot of his films, most notably Commando, The Running Man, and Twins. But that line is absent from Predator, even though it came out in the middle of the other films where he repeated the line. Why is that? Because they had something far better than a cliché line of dialogue in mind; they had a clever twist on the old cliché of the villain coming back for one last scare.
In The Terminator, the titular character gets burned to a crisp after a climactic chase near the end. But a minute later, the audience is shocked to see all that did was burn off his human skin, leaving the metal endoskeleton exposed and still itching for a fight with the wounded heroes.
Predator has a similar moment. At the climax, Dutch uses one of his booby traps to drop a huge log on the Predator’s head. He then sighs in relief until the log starts to move. It looks like the fight’s about to go into overtime, just like it did in The Terminator. But when Dutch grabs a rock and prepares to crush the Predator, he finds his enemy a pitiful sight, lying in his own blood and helpless to put up any resistance. The fight is over. But even this turns out to be another fake out because the Predator initiates a self-destruct feature on his armband to try to kill Dutch one last time. In both films, the titular character fails to kill his ultimate target.
Predator certainly isn’t Shakespeare, but it deserves some credit for its subtlety that could have been completely lost in the midst of all its firepower. You don’t have to pay attention to its nuances to enjoy it as a straight action film, but it gets even better if you decide to dig a little deeper. That’s the hallmark of a great film.
If you’ve noticed any other cool details in Predator that I failed to note in this article, I’d love to hear them.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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