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.
All images are the copyright of their respective owners.
I always had an “alternate” (completely made up, but still compelling) version of Predator. Think “Last Action Hero”, kind of…
The predator hunts the greatest prey in the universe. The most formidable, the most lethal (“Predators” operated on this principle alone…its all it had going for it) life forms in the universe were all hunted by the Predator. Example: The Xenomorph skulls in the Predator ship in Predator 2. The whole “AVP” thing…
So, I thought it would be interesting if the Predator was chilling in his homeland, looking for awesome prey to hunt. He comes across this guy via video transmissions on satellites near some backwater burg called Earth. This guy is a bad-ass, he’s strong as hell, kicks a lot of asses on his planet, he almost always wins in a fight, and it seems that his fellow earthlings agree. They take videos of him and love him.
This guy, of course, is Arnold Schwarzenegger. So the Predator signs all the proper forms and gets a ride to earth to find this guy, hunt him, and kill all of his friends.
There are obviously a lot of holes in this, but its kind of cool to think about anyway. Especially since the Predator gets to also take out some lesser (but still pretty formidable) opponents like Carl Weathers, Jesse The Body Ventura, Shane Black (who wrote motherfuckin’ MONSTER SQUAD) and another guy named Jim Hopper.
Its also pretty funny if the sequel happened because Team Predator didnt have much of a budget for the NEXT most bad-ass dude on the planet (JCVD, who was supposed to BE the Predator, increasing the mindfuck)…so they sent him to kill Danny Glover and Bill Paxton instead. Ha.
Anyway, since you also spend a lot of time thinking about this, I thought you might find it amusing.
It’s funny, I recall a Frenchman telling me how a certain film critic in France fawned over how The Predator was the perfect movie. When I expressed skepticism, he cited only references to cinematography and composition, so certainly not the same idea as your review, but I honestly thought I would never hear anyone praise The Predator from a critical perspective. I certainly love the movie, but it’s been a while, so I’ll have to give it another watch, hopefully with a new and deeper appreciation for the film.
Thanks for your review!
Shane Black’s joke about his girlfriend’s….lady parts was also deep.
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I found this little stop along the information super highway and I enjoyed it. I would love to see what of Predator was left on the cutting room floor and if the director wanted to explore the concept more deeply, but were stymied by Executive meddling.
The action scenes, especially the raid on the camp were typical 80’s explosion fests that detracted from an otherwise great narrative. I am a big fan of the ending. Dutch begins the film as the premo, quintessential action hero. Giant muscles, a team of Delta Force esque badasses, but it ends with a broken man, staring blankly at the wasteland that was not long ago a dense jungle. Keenly aware that humanities ignorance about its place in the galaxy has just changed for the worse. He bears a burden much bigger than his dead comrades.
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Anyone familiar with existentialism will identify the film as an allegory. Nietzsche in his work ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’ introduces a prophet who travels about preaching the death of God and describes man as being on a rope halfway between an ape and what he describes as ‘the overman’. It is the destiny of humankind to leave behind the savage that he was and the state in which he now is, to become a kind of superhuman. In order to do so he must pass over, upon a bridge, what he calls the abyss- fear of the unknown etc. To succeed he must fall down or set like the Sun. He must embrace death and annihilation in an empty godless universe. Once he owns this reality he will no longer be the slave of superstition and so in time the overman will arise.
The symbolism of the bridge appears in the art of existentialist expressionist painters of the ,’die Brucke’ (the bridge) movement. This symbol appears in the film as a bridge that the Native American character must cross. He represents man as the savage, however, and is not advanced enough despite his physical agility and strength, to conquer the predator. He symbolizes ‘the noble savage’ a term discussed in philosophical works from the 18th to 20th C.
Dutch is the only one capable of defeating the predator, but before doing so he must embrace death an dive over the cliff (the abyss). The symbol of the abyss is explored in Caspar David Friedrich’s painting ‘wanderer above the sea of fog’. Dutch then, having done so, finds within himself a level of strength that matches that of the predator. He has become Nietzsche’s overman.
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What about the theme of man’s primitive nature versus technology? In order to win, Dutch must ditch his guns and modern weapons, revert to more primal hunting methods, and beat the predator at its own game of surprise. The theme of technology under rides the awesome action and subtlety serves as a reminder that man’s reach exceeds his grasp.
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