Poet and author Ander Monson has seen the 1987 movie Predator, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger on the run from an alien in a Guatemalan jungle, 146 times. To explain why, he wrote Predator: A Memoir. Through a scene-by-scene exploration of the film, which he describes as “satire wrapped in gun pornography,” Monson reckons with his lifelong obsession with the movie and how it has informed his relationships to fatherhood, violence, fanaticism and masculinity.
“How dumb is this to have spent a decade or more watching this kind of dumb movie?” Monson asks throughout the book. What he proves is that Predator is both dumb and insightful; spending a lifetime with Predator is both a fun, escapist pastime and a profound self-education. Through repeated rewatches of the film, Monson better understands the real-life predators that have lingered in his imagination. One recurring image is the shocking rape and murder of his childhood babysitter by a budding serial killer in his small hometown in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In the character of the Predator, Monson sees a culmination of how violence, particularly violence committed by men, has been fetishized: “What’s hunting us is us, Predator tells us. It’s a version of us—male, equipped, single-minded, armed, aggressive, showy, and powerful.” With complete candor, he interrogates violence he has both witnessed and committed, violence that has both harmed and benefited him.
This is not film analysis, and though Monson does provide critique, he’s not looking at the film as a work of art. Predator is about Monson’s shifting relationship to a fixed cultural object and how he has seen himself reflected in it and found himself reflecting it back. However, navel-gazing is skillfully avoided. Monson’s narration has the rampant energy and good-natured, aw-shucks humility of a lively conversation in a movie theater lobby.
Some level of interest in the film is definitely required to understand what Monson is saying, but his storytelling spills over with tactile curiosity and fervor, making this work accessible to those who have seen the movie 145 fewer times than he has. It’s a book that will ignite conversation (and multiple film rewatches) for those who can relate to Monson’s familiar sentiment: “I’m not angry at masculinity exactly but I do have questions for it.”