Over the Top

One of the various things I wanted to be when I grew up was a truck driver.

My dream of one day becoming a trucker was inspired by the film Over the Top, starring Sylvester Stallone. The truck is a powerful machine and (symbolically at least) the trucker is a strong man. A truck symbolizes strength. It is therefore a very “manly” vehicle and being a truck driver a very manly occupation that boys my romanticize like being a cowboy or a fireman. The trucker is a loner, a lone wolf, an outsider, but it is a self-chosen outsidership; like the lone cowboy that rides off into the sunset, so the trucker and his trusty truck disappears over the horizon along an endless highway. A truck also symbolizes freedom as it treks over thousands of kilometers to transport its cargo. Because it is always on the move, it is like the proverbial rolling stone that gathers no moss.

I don't think I saw the movie Over the Top when it first came out in 1987, maybe a few years later only. However, when I did see it, it profoundly resonated with me, particularly because of the theme the story addressed, that of a father and son that are estranged from each other. The plot revolves around a father and son with little in common that takes a road trip together in the father's truck; slowly they get to know each other, until, of course, a bond of love and trust is developed. During the trip the preppy boy is taught the “art of manliness” from his father. As John Eldredge so famously says in his book Wild at Heart, “masculinity is bestowed” from father to son. The film shows how a father tries to amend for the distance between him and his son. The son, with much resistance at first, soaks in his father's presence. While his father may not be perfect, he is however a man and thus an example of what it is to be a man—something this boy did not have because his parents were divorced and he grew up with his mother. It was this aspect in the movie that struck a chord in me.

My parents were not divorced but my father was a workaholic with little time to spend with his children. I also got the impression very early on that he had given over the raising of me to my mother. The reason was possibly because my father and I were complete opposites in temperament and personality. People often made the remark: “You are your mother's child,” with which they meant how much my mother and I were alike. As far as my father was concerned, I was definitely not a chip of the old block. Yet, there came a time in my development that I longed for a father to show me the path towards manhood. This is simply something a mother cannot teach her son. Unfortunately I never did get that guidance from my father.

Every time I watched Over the Top, and I did so many, many times, I terribly longed for the relationship that the boy Michael develops with his dad Lincoln. Unfortunately it never happened in my life story. Yet, the film in a sad way did function as a fictional substitute. I lived myself into the characters and saturated in the father-son relationship the film depicted. And I think I cried at the end of the film every time I saw it. I cried because I was happy for the father which Michael had gained and I cried because I didn't have that.

Wait—the film isn't halfway as melodramatic as I make it seem. It is actually much more of a clichéd action-drama-sport movie based on the underground trucker sport of arm-wrestling where Sylvester Stallone get's to show-off his big arms and the veins bulging in his neck. Imagine Animal Planet showing male animals sparring for dominance with the younger male animals looking on and learning from the adults and then mimicking their behaviour. This is definitely not a movie that feminist critics who frown on manly aggression and the smell of testosterone will condone. What it is, however, is a drama catered for men—for fathers and sons—and in this it succeeds wonderfully.

I haven't seen the film in probably 20 years, but recently got hold of it again and am sure to watch it when I have an opportunity. However, last year I went to see another film, which in my opinion is just a sci-fi remake of Over the Top, namely the film Real Steal (2011). Or if not a remake, then at least it is safe to say that Real Steal, starring Hugh Jackman, was heavily inspired by Over the Top. I hope that Real Steal do to many boys what Over the Top did for me.

And who knows, maybe one day I will have a career change and become a trucker and drive into the sunset with the open road before me.

To read a detailed synopsis of the film with some screen shots, look here.

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