Audie Murphy (1925-1971) wrote “To Hell and Back.” It was an account of his time as a soldier in World War II. In 1955, he later starred in the film of the same name. Murphy was one of the most decorated American combat soldiers of World War II.
Murphy suffered from what today would be described as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It’s been reported that he slept with a loaded handgun under his pillow.
Nothing could really describe the hell of war, certainly not a film made in the 1950s.
A number of recent films have captured some of the horror of war. The D-Day massacre scene in Saving Private Ryan is a good example.
But what few films do is deal with the moral struggle that intertwines all war movies. Atheists can claim that it’s “survival of the fittest,” although they rarely if ever push their matter-only, evolved being, “nature, red in tooth and claw” presuppositions this consistently.
But you and I know that the men and women who fight in wars have to be asking the bigger picture questions about the morality and meaning of it all in a world said to be governed by a Provident God. Alvin York struggled with these types of questions as he reluctantly fought in World War I. See the 1941 film Sergeant York starring Gary Cooper.
Maybe Fury is just another guys’ violent war movie about how war is hell.
But I doubt it
Fury is a war movie about a tank squad rumbling through the German countryside, killing SS and German soldiers near the end of World War II.
But it is so much more.
Battle movies can actually be quite boring if they reduce to guys spouting jokes and ironic lines as they move from battle scene to battle scene. But Fury does not degrade into that. Brad Pitt as the leader of the squad, “Wardaddy,” does a great job with a lead character that is otherwise a bit thin on development.
The “new guy” protagonist, Norman, is an archetype of the innocent inexperienced soldier who comes of age in a brutal world. He struggles with his first kill, helped by Wardaddy, and has to grow up fast by accepting the tragic reality that whatever he does or doesn’t do directly affects the survival of his comrades in arms.
So, when Norman is forced to kill his first SS captive, he balks and says it isn’t right. Wardaddy explains that it isn’t about right and wrong, it’s about survival against soldiers who will kill you if you do not kill them first. This is not a brutish denial of morality, but rather a simplified way of explaining the hard reality that when evil people seek to kill you, if good men do not kill them first, then evil will prevail.
Sound at all familiar with the terror of today? At another moment, Wardaddy says to Norman the theme of the film, “Ideals are peaceful, history is violent.” It seems that to Wardaddy, it is the soldier’s sacrifice that builds the freedom upon which normal citizens can have the luxury to moralize.
In another memorable scene, Wardaddy and Norman find an apartment with a lady and her young daughter (or niece. I can’t remember). Wardaddy cleans up and has the women make them a home cooked meal in a tension filled metaphoric attempt to experience that semblance of civil society that they had to give up to fight the war. Wardaddy also keeps his more animalistic members of the squad from raping the women. It showed the human decent side of a harsh leader that seeks to keep the goodness of what they fought for in his memory.
One word: Profound.