“An Officer and a Gentleman” was released in 1982. Thirty-two years later this film still provokes strong emotions in me. The ending, while being scoffed as a Hollywood type ending, is as Hollywood as it is real. For you women, most of us men were hoping that Zack (Richard Gere) would realize what a great girl Paula (Debra Winger) was and take her away. It wasn’t just the women rooting for Paula and Zack……we were too. The movie is as much about Zack’s struggle for legitimacy inside the Navy as it is about his struggle to give up his narcissistic and sociopathic self-obsessed ways. In the end he realizes that without Paula’s support and love, he probably would have washed out of Navy OCS. Instead of leaving her behind, he understands that his lot in life stood a much better chance by having her in his life than without.
More than anything “An Officer and a Gentleman” captured the struggle to succeed and make the right choices that life confronts us all with. For that reason alone it resonated so deeply across the population. In that sense, the entire movie is an allegory about the struggles in life.
I read a few years ago that it isn’t that we are faced with challenges; it’s how we work through them. The differences in success or failure can be either the result of one decision or a series of decisions. Sometimes the greatest catastrophes start with one bad decision and then a multitude of them. The story of the Titanic comes to mind. Under pressure to break the transatlantic passage record, the Captain decides to make full speed through a known iceberg laden area of the North Atlantic. The pressure Captain Smith felt was greater than all his years of experience. He knew the best strategy in an ice field was to simply stop the boat and await the dawn light when the bergs would be clearly visible. He knew that once stopped they couldn’t collide with an iceberg since they were all moving in the same ocean drift. The ship that made first on scene, RMS Carpathia, she had done exactly that: drift for the night.
In business we face challenges daily. In my opening comments to our small team for 2014 my first slide was from the US Military Academy at West Point: We will not lie, cheat, steal or tolerate those who do. That is a primary cultural value for us. While many companies say things like this, we live it. This helps us endure the challenges that are thrown at us.
Ultimately we see in Paula as all that is good about America: hard working; funny; desperately wanting to climb up the stairs of status; good hearted; loving…….all that America and Americans believe is the right way to be. On the other hand, Zack was all about himself. He didn’t care about anyone else or anything other than his own goals. In a beautiful allegory to changing American cultural values from the 1970’s into the 1980’s, the movie’s two protagonists portray a changing United States struggling with its own values and corporate culture.
We couldn’t post the videos from the movie as they are not allowed to be shared via embedding technology. However, we’d like you to remember with us the final scene where Zack dressed in his Navy Whites (formal) walks into Paula’s factory and carries her out to the cheers of her co-workers…….we’re still cheering for Paula 32 years later. Happy Music Friday from Toltec Global Services.