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Behavior Theory in “An Officer and a Gentleman” Film

Social Influences in the film

Zack Mayo is almost an orphan, having lost his mother and he now has moved in with his father, a womaniser who abandoned his wife and the child. The father Byron, works as a U.S. Navy Boatswain’s Mate and is stationed in Philippines. Coming from a protective boarding school where he was put up, Zack has grown in a protective socio cultural atmosphere that was squeaky-clean. When he lands up at his fathers shack, opposite a whorehouse, Zack is clearly lost. He does not know what to make out of the half naked prostitutes he sees and the way in which his father behaves with them. There is a clear clash of cultures here and Zack wants to get away from the mess where his father stays and he moves away to college. All these appear in the flashback.

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Cut to the present day when Zack meets up with his father Byron and tells he has graduated and further that Zack would be joining the Navy. Now why would Zack join the Navy when as a child, he perceived the Navy as an extension of his father and essentially evil. The reason can be understood from the Psychodynamic Theory of childhood conflicts when the young Zack was continuously reminded by his mother about the evil father who has abandoned them. His desire to join the Navy even after he got scholarships and studied in colleges is because of the Cognitive theory of social cognitive learning. Obviously, Zack wants to explore the same society and culture of the Navy and see if it has the same pernicious effects that it had on his father. However, at heart, Zack is a romantic and he falls in love with Paula, an ordinary office worker, who must have resembled his mother in her social affiliations.

Zack’s socio cultural roots do create conflicts like when he wakes in the morning after an orgy with his father and two whores. When Zack wakes up, stares at the soiled bed sheets, the dirty whores, the dirty room and turns up his face in disgust. This is where the positive reinforcement of his childhood takes over and he realises that this is not what he wants and this is not how he wants to love. There is also the positive motivational aspect when he replies to his father that he wants to join as Navy pilot because he wants to fly the biggest meanest aircraft that are around.

Aggression Fuelling Motivation

The film is fuelled by aggression and it is pent up anger that fuels the cadets and fills them with motivation to graduate and get even with the Staff Sergeant Foley, who is an African American. Foley is very tough, foul mouthed and many times he provokes the cadets to flare up and do something rash, that would get them disqualified and get thrown out. All the cadets perceive Foley as a bully who is using his position to goad them but they are helpless and cannot fight back and have to undergo his taunts. In reality, Foley is just doing his job of testing the mental toughness of the cadets and wants to weed out the useless from the officer material. In the initial scene, Zack and the other cadets have just landed at the academy where they would be admitted and are awaiting inspection. It scene shows the new group looking absolutely rag tag watching a group of cadets that are sprinting sharply. The neat and tidy lawns, the alert and fit cadets with their close cropped hair are a direct contrast to the shabby group that is slouching on the lawns. The keeps panning the lawns, the trim cadets and the group in an attempt to show how much of a misfit they are. When Foley asks the cadets to open their suitcases for inspection, he picks up Casey Seeger’s lace panties and dangles it around for everyone to see. Foley says ‘Seeger, are we going to have to watch you run around in these for the next thirteen weeks?” Some girls will do almost anything to get laid. Are you one of those girls Seeger? Did you put in for AOCs to get gang banged, Seeger? She replies back that Foley should not insult him, he replies “I’ll call you a beaver sandwich, if I want to, until the day they commission you an officer and a gentleman and I have to call You Sir. My language offend you Seeger? Well, maybe the Navy is not for you ’cause you will hear far worse out in the fleet?” Foley is trying to provoke Seeger in the worst possible way and wants to see if she will break. He knows the kind of language used in the Navy and wants to toughen her by using severe aggression.

There are some elements of humanistic theory as the cadets learn about self efficacy, even Seeger who realises that being a woman will not help her in getting soft treatment. The element of self efficacy leads to cognitive learning as the cadets learn to control pain and the insults and taunts from Foley do not bother them anymore. They have become conditioned to the rigours and the hard life and Seeger knows what it takes to be equal to a man in strength since she has to complete a number of obstacle courses and cannot climb a wall, even though she tries. The scene has the camera focussed on Seeger and then cuts to the sneering Foley and again back to her. The wall and the small bit of sky that shows up seems to bring the concept of barrier and freedom starkly to the viewer. The camera shows close-ups of the sergeant and the stricken Seeger, one is judging and supremely confident, the other is defeated and crying. Foley who is watching her says “”I can tell you right now you are not gonna make it Seeger….Do you want to be a man Seeger? Is that why you are here?” In anger she replies “Sir, if it means getting all the respect a man gets, then yes…When she again fails, Foley taunts her by saying “That’s it. That’s exactly what will beat you Seeger, your mental attitude as a person of the female persuasion”.

Intimacy, sexual feelings and deceit

Sexuality is always underscored in the movie, right from the time when Paula and Lynette first appear in the academy. Even Foley has made it clear that the girls come across the harbour with the sole intention of finding a husband. This is the Biological theory of sexual attraction here. While Zack could have had an affair with Paula at the academy, he is not attracted to her he feels she is more of an equal and a threat to his desire to become a jet pilot. However, he is attracted to the curvy Paula who is curvier, vulnerable and feels more like a woman. In the scene, Sid and Lynette are behind a dune while the sound of waves pounding the shore is distinctly hear. Zack is not sure of where this will go and it is Paula who takes the initiative as she removes her top. The camera very suggestively relates what is happening and it is only the soft lights and the waves lashing the shore that actually relate what happens. Zack and his friend Sid make out with the two girls and the affair seem to start from this point on. Now Sid is a dreamer and has fallen in love with Lynette and when she says that she has become, he is ready to marry her and she is pushing him to do so. She is not really in love with Sid but uses her sexuality to attract him and entrap him but in reality, she wants to escape the drudge of office work and move with Sid to exotic locations where she can have fun.

In the later scene of the film, the fact that Paula is a homely person who takes care of the house is evident. There are elements of cognitive learning and discovery of the true inner self here and further development of self efficacy. In the scene, the local bully who is much heavier and built stronger is pushing Zack, goading him to a fight. The camera shows the ugliness of the gang as they close around the couple. Some of them are sneering, waiting to see what happens. The confidence of the leader shows as he swaggers on to Zack, pushing him to the fight. The camera pans the darkness of the night, the harsh streetlights and there is almost no back ground score. Zack quickly demolishes the leader and the other back off. Zack has jus beaten up a local bully who resented the fact that their girls preferred the cadets. Zack and Paula, and Sid and Lynette go to a hotel. Zack fights with Paula who goes away. When he awakened, he finds that Paula has cooked him some breakfast and even straightened up the room and this impresses Zack and one finds that it is not only sexual attraction but something deeper. Paula is not sure of Zack and is not ready to marry him, just because he is in the Navy. She wants to be sure that he is right for her and even asks Zack to go away but the attraction here is more than sexual. The self efficacy element is that Zack was not able to take a decision or learn what he really needed but his encounter with Paula has taught him to peer deeper into his soul and realise what he really wants. His true learning comes to the fore when Foley taunts him to admit that he wants to join the Navy so that he could become an airline pilot. However in desperation Zack shouts “I got nothing else to fall back on. Sir! This is it for me…and I am gonna do it“. This is the answer that Foley was looking for and he is satisfied that Zack is really officer material.

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The story of Sid and Lynette is different. Lynette is scheming and knows that Sid is hooked and so she makes up a story that is pregnant. Sid cannot complete the course and resigns and comes to Lynette and the true extent of deceit is apparent now when she says that she is not ready to marry Sid now that he will not graduate and further that she had lied and is not pregnant. He hangs himself and this angers Zack who challenges Foley to a fight. One of the most poignant scenes is when Zack saunters into the office where Paula and Lynette are working. The camera shows the other girls crowding in, wondering what would happen and when Zack picks up Paula, the whole crowd cheers while the look in Lynette’s face is poignant and one can see that she would give everything to be in Paula’s place.


Stewart Douglas Stewart. 1081. An Officer And A Gentleman: Film Script. 2008. Web.

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