Z is for — Zack Mayo from the movie An Officer and a Gentleman
We finally made it to the end of A to Z! Whoo hoo!
For me, the last was the hardest. Even this morning, I didn’t know who I was going to write about. Last year, I wrote about Zorro, so that was out, and I couldn’t think of any other fictional “Z” characters I was really familiar with enough to call a favorite. Before resorting to fudging, as I did with “X,” I did a Google search to jog my memory and ran across Zack Mayo from the movie, An Officer and a Gentleman.
Zack Mayo, played by Richard Gere, is one of those characters who starts out as a hustler, a loner with a sordid childhood. His mother committed suicide when he was a kid, and he was raised by his father, a drunken, philandering U.S. Navy man. Zack wants more out of life, though. He’s always wanted to fly jets, so he signs up for Naval Aviation Officer training to become a Navy pilot.
During training, he keeps to himself and hustles spit-shined shoes and belt buckles for a price from those who can’t get theirs up to snuff. His nemesis, Drill Sergeant Emil Foley (Louis Gossett, Jr., in an Oscar-winning performance) who has been making his life miserable, finds out what he’s been doing. Incensed by what he perceives as Zack’s lack of respect, Foley puts Zack through a weekend of torturous drills and exercises to break Zack’s spirit and make him quit.
Zack refuses to quit and begs Foley not to throw him out of the training school, because he’s got no place else to go and nothing left. Once he comes to this realization, Foley lets him off the hook, and Zack starts to be more of a team player. He realizes how much the new friends he’s made mean to him, especially his new girlfriend, Paula (Debra Winger). He learns that to have friends, he has to be a friend, and he allows himself to love and be loved. By the end of the film, he’s well on his way to becoming a heroic figure, and he has earned Foley’s respect.
My favorite scenes are when he gives up his chance to set a new record on the obstacle course to help one of his teammates conquer a wall she can’t climb and when he marches into the factory at the end of the movie and carries Paula away. A feel-good ending if there ever was one.
© Lori L. MacLaughlin and Writing, Reading, and the Pursuit of Dreams, 2015. All rights reserved.