... or at least that seems to be the lesson to working class girls like Paula (Debra Winger) and Lynnette (Lisa Blount) who have the problem of only having a high school education and thus limited employment options in the remote rural place in which they live, but access to the droves of young men going through officer candidate school nearby. The catch - they are only there for 13 weeks, and isolated on base without leave for the first four. With the final scene being somewhat iconic - I won't spoil it for you but I'm sure you'll recognize it being parodied somewhere before - it does seem to be that my review title is the lesson for young women here. That and cheaters (Lynette) never prosper.
This is a great time capsule and probably the film you should watch if you want a taste of the Reagan revolution of the early 1980s. The most significant feature of "An Officer and a Gentleman" is that contemporary reviewers saw nothing unusual about it. The use of sex and nudity marks what has been incorporated from the counter cultural revolution, but the politics have shifted to the right so quietly that no one noticed. It's entirely possible that the writer and director could truthfully deny that they had intended to make a pro-Reagan film. With appealing stars like Richard Gere and Debra Winger, salvation through military service could even seem to be hip.
It's also a taste of something we lost at the end of the draft. I'm not saying that a military draft would be the least bit practical with the highly technical armed forces we have now. But look what we have here - people from all walks of life being forged together into a cohesive unit, aware but unbothered by the differences between them. Zack (Richard Gere), losing a mother to suicide as a child, foisted upon an unwilling father by the Navy, and growing up over a Filipino whorehouse, learning martial arts to defend himself against the roving street gangs. Of course he came to the navy a selfish jerk - he needed that quality to survive as a kid. Zack's best buddy (David Keith as Sid) is an Okie from Muskogee, a guy so traditional he is living his dead brother's life for him just because his parents want it that way. Then there is Perryman, their bunk mate. He appears to be a little older, maybe almost 30, but being a naval aviator is the only way he can see to get up and into a secure future for his wife and kids. Then there is Emiliano Della Serra (Tony Plana), a soft spoken mathematics graduate from Texas, Hispanic and every inch of five feet. In high school this is the kind of guy Zack and Sid would have shoved into his own locker, but here he is a colleague. Last but not least there is Casey Seeger, the lone woman in the outfit, just a few years after women were even allowed to try for this career at all.
Lou Gossett Junior earned his supporting actor academy award as Sgt. Foley . He presses the recruits hard, trying everything to trip them up and expose weaknesses in their character. It's too bad it really didn't seem to do much for his career.
Look out for a young David Caruso whose trip into the drink in a simulator pretty much paralleled his acting career. See NYPD Blue, season one, for reference.
A great double bill would be this film and "Easy Rider" made just 13 years before. How drastically the culture had changed in thirteen years. No one connected with "Easy Rider" wanted to be a gentleman, let alone an officer. If "An Officer and a Gentleman" had been shown in 1969 or the early 70s, those who flocked to "Easy Rider" would have scorned its theme of salvation through military service the way they scorned "The Green Berets." Think of the contrasts between the two films, especially since Richard Gere and Lou Gossett, Jr. would have been perfectly capable of playing counter cultural heroes. Pessimism vs. optimism. Hatred of the system vs. a belief that the system works.
At any rate, the rather bad lesson this teaches young working class women is made up for by the all star cast - an ensemble of actors that works and an overall great script. Plus it is just a wonderful representative of those early 80s. I'd highly recommend it.