If that title threw you for a loop–and I admit, it's definitely a look–this next bit is really gonna bake your noodle.
Turn with me to the gospel of John.1
"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." John 15:13
I think in the heat of the moment, most of us would put ourselves in harm's way for our friends. But sitting here in the safety of my own home, the thought of actually doing so feels almost unimaginable. I have no problem picturing scenes where I do heroic stuff. As Han Solo once said, "I can imagine quite a bit." That's the soup du jour. It's the whole dying that's a bridge too far. You start thinking about everything you'd be giving up. I don't even like sharing my WiFi password.
Also, laying down suggests giving up. I'd prefer a heroic–and painless!–death. Decades of action movies have conditioned me that way. Everyone talks about nature vs nurture, but what about Norris as an influence?2
If I may be so bold, I think most men would find this version of scripture more agreeable:
"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down on a grenade for his friends."
Now that? That's a manly sort of laying down. In fact, it's really more of a dive because you only have so long to get on top of the grenade, which makes it a sport, something most men are predisposed toward. This isn't even the best example of laying down, but few things are more bad ass than saving your friends by hugging an explosion.3
By my reckoning, the 1987 film Predator is the most macho movie ever made, a high T bonanza of glistening pecs, stoic one-liners, and huge guns that are probably metaphors for penises.4 It stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, the decade's alpha male and the man against whom anyone who has ever repped out bicep curls have measured their arms, if only as aspiration. Arnold, an Austrian with a famously noticeable accent, plays a U.S. Special Forces Major nicknamed Dutch, which makes no damn sense whatsoever but somehow works. He's joined by enough beef to require a cattleman's association, and Hawkins (an oddly cast writer-director Shane Black), a beta who compensates by telling crude jokes about his wife's enormous vagina.5
Predator is a pantheon 'guy movie', which is sorta funny considering the film is clearly a satire. Listen to the way Director John McTiernan talks about the iconic scene where Dutch and his crew obliterate the jungle with approximately one million rounds of ammunition.
"When I first went to work on this project, I had the feeling that people had a sort of perverse fascination with pictures of guns firing. Literally, almost a pornographic desire... So I created this sequence where they take all of their guns and they blaze away... and they flatten the jungle... and hit nothing. What I was doing was to quietly ridicule the desire to see pictures of guns firing.... The whole point was the impotence of all the guns, which was just exactly the opposite of what I believed I was being hired to sell." ~ McTiernan, on the director's commentary
That the scene is meant to be satirical in no way lessens the raw spectacle. I'm not a gun nut but it's one of my favorite scenes, and I don't care that by liking it, I'm somehow proving McTiernan's thesis. It's awesome, in the original sense of the word, and ridiculous, and also strangely stirring. McTiernan may have been making a moral statement, but the reason the scene works is something far more elemental: the love between men.