My all time favorite Michael Biehn role as Lt. Hiram Coffey from the classic James Cameron epic, The Abyss (1989).[
If you haven’t figured out who Michael Biehn is already, he is Cpl. Dwayne Hicks from Aliens and Kyle Reese from The Terminator. This is yet another Michael Biehn James Cameron role that I really think he excelled in. He’s an actor that can say things with his wild eyes. I mean, if you’re going to play a mentally unstable character, you have to have the eyes for it. At the beginning of the movie, he’s clearly a dick. He is one of those straight-edge military douchebags who doesn’t give a single fuck what anybody thinks, he’s just there to do his job. He’s a Navy SEAL, damnit! Basically not a guy you want to bump into at a bar (or encounter in the jungle). In fact, you probably shouldn’t even make eye contact with him, period. Anyway, as he’s in the decompression chamber with his SEAL team and and Lindsay Brigman, we already know he’s going to be trouble. His hot temper just radiates off of his face, while maintaining a quiet professionalism. As Lindsay is listing off the signs of HPNS (High-Pressure Nervous Syndrome), Coffey interrupts with “…And a partridge in a pear tree”, which obviously makes Lindsay uneasy. And then, of course (as is mandatory), once he’s on the oil rig, unloading equipment, we see that he already has one of the symptoms of HPNS.
Now, I wouldn’t exactly call him a villain, but a lot of people do. I see him as more of a victim of circumstance. Other than being an asshole, there isn’t much evil about him. He wasn’t unbalanced (or at least it wasn’t explored) before he arrived, he just got HPNS, which, as Lindsay says in the movie, does not discriminate, even with preparation. Actually, I always found his situation a bit sad. He really thought that killing the aliens would save humanity, as he saw them as a threat. So, even though it would kill himself and everybody, his intentions were actually kind of noble. On the other hand, he’s also a Navy SEAL dick, which means he’s very deadly ON TOP of being off his nut and around the corner. He also hints at rape (if you don’t believe me, pay close attention to this scene), in the scene where he tapes Lindsay’s mouth. In the scene, he throws her up against the wall, rips a piece of tape off the roll, BELOW HIS WAIST and OFF CAMERA, making the audience think he’s doing something else (unzipping, perhaps?). And I mean, come ON, this is a JAMES CAMERON movie. He’s known for being very precise and picky with every damn little detail. He knows exactly what he’s doing. If he didn’t want people to get that idea, he would have shown the roll of duct tape and not have Coffey say, “This is something I’ve wanted to do since we first met…” before he tapes her mouth.
Anyway, I find him intriguing. The other characters in the movie are all good, so for the most part they’re boring (I’m very fond of Ed Harris, though). We are not meant to know Coffey other than his military professionalism and abrasiveness, which I think adds mystery to him (Was he always this psycho? Did he have abusive parents? Does he have a phone and can I have his number?). Personally, I think the movie would be better without the aliens. It could so easily be a fantastic military thriller movie with a twist (being stuck on a civilian oil rig). Coffey already has HPNS long before anybody sees any aliens, so it could perhaps be a survival movie instead. Waiting out the hurricane with professional killer roaming around, plotting and ascending deeper and deeper into madness. It might bring out more of his character if the aliens weren’t such a distraction. Hell, he probably would have lived longer.
I read an analysis of this movie where the writer was saying the aliens and Lindsay made Coffey feel weak because he wasn’t in charge (fear of the unknown, where in his world he always knows exactly what’s going on). He was frightened of the aliens, whereas the only female character is fascinated with them, making him take a step further by planning to destroy them. The fact that Lindsay scolded Coffey about his plans with the warhead made him feel like less of a man, hence symbolic castration. Sort of like an over-compensation for his insecurities (not being fully in charge, being frightened, having to deal with a woman who is even more relentless as he is). I thought it was a clever analysis. Of course, that doesn’t mean that’s what James Cameron was going for, but it makes some sense.
Well, there you have it, folks. Sort of a ramble. Maybe a badly written ramble.
Did I mention that Lt. Coffey is really hot? You’re welcome.