Arnold’s Reckless Abandon of Hyper-Masculinity in “Junior”

One of the first movies that has derived its laughter from the audience’s previous understanding of the embodiment of Arnold Schwarzenegger was the 1994 Ivan Reitman-helmed film, Junior. The plot of the film features Arnold as a scientist in the field of gynecology who, in order to prove the effectiveness of his drug, tests it on himself. What follows is a grand departure from typical Schwarzenegger. While his earlier films show a reverence for blood and testosterone, none of this is really present in this film. As a matter of fact, as Alex (Arnold’s character) opts to undergo the procedure, he is literally injected with the antithesis of this when he is pumped full of estrogen. Furthermore, his very name in the film, Alex, is short for, assuming, Alexander, but it’s also short for the girl’s name Alexandra so even by having a gender neutral name (as opposed to Predator’s Dutch) the film is very non-committal in having Arnold as its male lead. However, there are other elements to the film that show a much more visual and tangible disregard for the niche that Arnold had carved out for himself by 1994.
One of the elements of Junior’s comedy that I would be remiss without mentioning is the exploitation of Arnold’s form. With one of Arnold’s first films being the 1976 piece Stay Hungry, in which it was difficult to find him with much clothing own towards the end of the movie, Junior is much more modest. It relies on the audience to have prior knowledge of Arnold’s work as a bodybuilder. This is where most of the humor is derived. However, one of the driving forces in Arnold’s earlier work was the sheer spectacle of it. There was no denying that men wanted to be him and arguably, some women wanted to be with him. This is what attracted most people to Arnold’s pictures before, but there was no trace of that in Junior. Men certainly had no desire to idealize an egghead scientist who was willing to carry a child, and the male Adonis was just far enough removed that Arnold held little appeal even to women. In essence, Arnold was making a mockery of himself. He was living out the systematic destruction of his own physical form in a way that essentially made him a grotesque caricature of what he had intentionally fashioned himself to embody. The viewer gets a sense that Arnold is laughing at himself with this piece. There are several key scenes where it even becomes difficult to watch Arnold do this to himself. One of the scenes is the one where Alex decides to carry the baby to full-term. This shows the emotional effects that the pregnancy has had on Arnold’s mind and with that, the audience sees Arnold behave emotionally and make decisions based on his emotions. Arguably this has been seen in previous films, such as Commando where Arnold goes into protective mode when his daughter is kidnapped. Even then, he responds with swift and deliberate violence, which shows little regard for the emotional well being of anyone besides his daughter and himself. Furthermore, most movies that Arnold has done like this show the protectiveness as instinctual. In Junior, Arnold’s actions are both conscious and emotionally driven. This is where the audience begins to lose track of not only the physical being that is Arnold from the earlier years, but also the persona that he has established for himself.
As previously stated, the changes that Arnold undergoes in the movie are far from merely physical. By 1994, the audience would have just been coming off the string of violent films that the 1980s had held, such as Commando, Predator, and even Total Recall. However, they’d also seen Arnold in other capacities, as a brother in Twins and as a surrogate father in Kindergarten Cop, but throughout them all, he had maintained his male identity. While it is true it was slightly altered to conform to the film, but it had never been done as drastically as with Junior. In this film, it is fair to say that Arnold sacrifices this identity. Not only when he is injected with estrogen and becomes pregnant, but earlier on even with his male identity in the film. He is a scientist, which is somewhat of a change for Arnold in and of itself. Although it may not be a deserved reputation, most stereotypes of scientists are somewhat socially awkward, but more importantly, physically weak. By taking on the role of a scientist, Arnold is in essence already compromising his masculine image. However, that is something that could have easily been repaired, but instead, Reitman seems to play off of it by telling the audience early on that this is not the Arnold that they know. Furthermore, we see the idea of “Every man has a feminine side” given physical credence when Arnold disguises himself as a woman to hide from his potential captors. Until this point in contemporary society, drag was a particularly degraded form of comedy, and is even in some circles, still considered to be less than reputable. At this point, drag had been essentially designated a gay art form or a black art form, as crass as it may sound. However, Arnold embraced this and showed a disregard for the pre-conceived notions by accepting the part. Once again, it seemed to be a continuation of Arnold’s grand joke on everyone. By not only downplaying his male identity, but eventually abandoning it and pretending to be a woman in a time of crisis, Arnold’s abandonment of the persona he had worked so hard to cultivate seemed to be complete. Arnold’s disregard for the male hero he had come to embody, arguably began with Junior, but it certainly continued in some of his later work.

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