Screenplay by: Douglas Day Stewart
Richard Gere stars in this classic story about a young troubled man who must endure the tough love of a merciless gunnery sergeant to succeed at a Navy Flight school. The screenplay was written by Douglas Day Stewart, a former Navy flight school student.
The introduction of the main character, Zack Mayo, is a clever and appropriate one. We see him at an airport in the Philippines, waiting for a sailor while holding a racy photo.
Byron doesn’t identify himself as Zack’s father, but their brief conversation makes it obvious. In any case, this is not usually how a 13 year old boy meets a man who is his father. But the concept of meeting a sailor at an airport to begin the story is a nice foreshadowing. On page 10, a grown-up Zack will tell Byron that he joined the Navy, so in a sense, young Zack is watching his future self, wearing a crisp white uniform and spit-shine shoes, approach him.
The photo Zack holds, exposing him to an adult activity – necking – shows us that Zack is being exposed to the world of explicit sex at an early age. The subsequent scenes emphasize this unflinching reality.
The genre of An Officer and a Gentleman is character drama. The raw, gritty depiction of Byron’s life in the underbelly of Manila shows us a young man in flashbacks with a troubled childhood. He has lived hard and has grown into a tattooed, aimless young drifter. His desire to fly jets is a metaphor for his need to escape. Zack needs structure and discipline, and the United States Navy is waiting for him, ready to oblige.
On page 6, Zack gets into a fight with two Filipino boys. This underscores his rough childhood, and provides context for a later scene when Zack, while in officer candidate school, is forced to fight a bar fly who challenges him.
In the first 6 pages, our main character, Zack, has visited a seedy whorehouse, been chided by his deadbeat father, beaten up, and robbed. These scenes help to set the tone for the gritty, character drama that will follow.
The dramatic situation is simple. This character, tamed by a wild, dysfunctional upbringing, has survived and wants to fly jets. This is revealed on page 10, after Stewart takes the first 9 pages of the screenplay to provide context to this revelation.
The flashbacks shown in the first 9 pages help to make Zack’s revelation, a single line “I joined the Navy”, meaningful. We know that Zack has something to escape from. This isn’t just a whim, something to pass the time. This is a NEED. Going to officer candidate school, seeking the discipline he has lacked in his youth, will be a transformative experience that will mold his character for the next 120 pages. We will be along for the ride.
World of the Story
The world of this story is not shown in the first 10 pages, but it is implied. In fact, what is shown is its OPPOSITE so as to accentuate the contrast we see when Zack goes to officer candidate school. Like a fish out of water, he doesn’t belong, which makes his character more interesting since we want to see how he will survive his new home.
In the flashbacks, we see that Byron and Zack live among prostitutes, but Stewart paints a similar scene in the present day, with Zack all grown up. This scene happens just before Zack leaves for officer candidate school. This scene is important because it shows how nothing has changed for Byron and Zack. They are still living the kind of life they always have. The difference is, Zack has changed. He has made a decision to seek an escape in the Navy.
Since An Officer and a Gentleman is a character drama, the theme deals with internal struggle. As mentioned previously, Zack wants to escape. Jets soar through the sky, and this is what Zack wants to do, in a figurative sense. The Navy will give him the guidance that he desperately craved as a child,, but did not receive from his father as a child.
In conclusion, An Officer and a Gentleman takes the first 5 rules and applies them in a strong and original way. Douglas Day Stewart does an excellent job of painting a world that is OPPOSITE of the world we will discover in the subsequent pages.