Lone Survivor-A Pacifists’ Perspective

Despite reading about the films’ extraordinary amount of violence and blood, I decided to enjoy (and i use that term loosely) watching the recounting of the story of Operation Red Wings, in the movie ‘Lone Survivor’, starring actor Mark Wahlberg. My Uncle and I decided to go see the movie together. We both were a bit hesitant to see this movie, given our beliefs and sentiments towards war and violence, however we decided to give it a go. The film recounts the story of four Navy SEALs sent on a covert operation to neutralize a Taliban leader. After a series of hindrances, the operation becomes compromised and the SEAL’s are ambushed by Taliban forces in the remote and mountainous Hindu Kush region of Afghanistan. The movie is based off of New York Times bestseller by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson. The primary targets of the operation were a group of anti-coalition militia-men from the Nangarhar province led by Ahmad Shad, a regional Taliban leader.

To be honest I don’t care much for war movies, which are often ripe with over-zealous patriotic themes and jingoistic flaws, however I have been moved by power-house films such as Saving Private Ryan, not at all for the violence, hidden behind the guise of ‘freedom,’ and a flag, but for the pure power of the story and the raw emotion of such accounts. Despite the gut-wrenching violence included in the ‘Lone Survivor,’ it was nonetheless a power-house movie, with both its flaws and achievements.  Despite the violent themes and events in the film, ‘Lone Survivor,’ had one of the most hauntingly beautiful soundtracks to a movie that I’ve heard in a long time…and that was one of the few redeeming qualities.

Simply put, War is Hell….there is no way around that…..and in the movie it becomes crystal clear. The film begins by showing the vigorous and intense training that Navy SEALs go through. It is not hard to appreciate the strength and ‘bravery,’ that these men must have. It’s obvious that these men have no shortage of courage and are willing to give their lives for their (American) brothers and comrades. Throughout the movie, the camaraderie and bond that the SEALs have is clearly shown. It becomes hard to not grow fond of the ‘heroes’ of this story, knowing how important each of them is to each other and the brotherly love they have for one another. They are willing to die for each other and in fact they do (Not to give too many spoilers away here) and at one point, the team leader, Navy Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy, climbs up to the summit of a rock cliff in order to radio in air support after their communications officer is killed. In the process he is shot several times and dies in a slow motion scene with the dramatic backdrop of the the mountains. In doing so, Lieutenant Murphy is able to make contact with U.S. forces in order to call in air support.

Going into the movie, I had my opinions and biases, but I did my best to put those aside, to watch and interpret the story as it is and was. Surprisingly it was actually a decent movie, with powerful acting and raw emotion put into many of the characters individual stories. The acting was of course superb, including an impressive performance by Mark Wahlberg. The cinematography was beautiful and combined with the soundtrack, at times it was almost more of an art-house movie. However at some points the violence and blood-filled scenes became too much. Earlier on in the movie, the Taliban leader, Ahmad Shah is shown hacking off a traitors head, thankfully the camera is pointed away and we only see splatter of blood flying into the air. However, once the fighting truly begins, it is a nonstop stream of disturbing brain-gushing shots, with lots of blood. At first the Taliban fighters are picked off with shots to the head and upper torso’s, but soon the SEAL’s began to takes one hit after another as bullets rip through their flesh and bones. Before long it becomes a constant barrage of countless gunfire, ranging from small arms to a large mounted machine gun and even rocket-propelled grenades. The SEAL’s are hit by multiple gunshots, taking bullets to the legs, upper bodies. Severed stumps of blown off fingers, mutilated ears and protruding bones are shown throughout the process, leaving the viewer with a empty stomach and a disturbed conscience. Soon after the gunfight erupts the SEALs find themselves tumbling down of sheer cliffs, crashing into boulders and trees as they tumble head over heels down the mountainside. The viewers watch as one by one each Navy SEAL is killed, until only Marcus Luttrell is left alive and fighting for his life.

Sadly, the film almost seems to worship the pain and agony that each of the SEAL’s go through. Their ligaments are riddled with bullets and their bodies cut by rocks and trees, they find themselves lathered in blood within minutes of the ambush. But yet somehow they are still able to fight on, with missing fingers, broken bones and so on…..Not to say that Navy SEALs are not tough, they are likely the toughest men in the world, but at times it does seem a bit ridiculous. This doesn’t go to say that they didn’t experience something like this (maybe they did) and if they did it without a doubt one of the most remarkable feats of our time. But like all stories, especially ones involving the politics of war and militarism, stories are exaggerated. I need not give examples, you only need to examine the stories from the American press during World War Two, Vietnam and others to understand what I’m getting at….Propaganda comes in many forms….

Throughout the movie you begin to see the genius of Director Peter Berg as he captures each and every bullet that hits the American SEALs in a simple, but brilliant way. But of course the Taliban are quickly killed with single shots to the head and/or chest and die before they have even fallen to the ground. In the end, it is only the overwhelming numbers that bring them down. And even as they die, they appear at peace in their dying moments.

I certainly respect these incredible men, I do believe they had/have good intentions in ‘serving’ their country, but I believe that they( like all soldiers on this earth) are misguided by flags, politicians and sense of duty that exists and persists through the continuity of ideals likes patriotism. Unfortunately the movies is full of cliches and meaningless phrases like many of its predecessors. At one point, one of the SEALs yells, “You can die for your country, but I’m gonna live for mine.” A perfect example of how war is a racket. At times the movie almost feels dishonoring to the nineteen Americans killed, making the the movie into an almost cartoon like representation as the Taliban leader is shown cutting off a mans head in front of the victim’s son (which likely never happened). Its almost an insult to the fallen soldiers to have the target of their mission appear as a cheesy villain from a mediocre action movie.

There are many other problems with the movie as well. Of course in the book written by Luttrell (mostly Patrick Robinson), there are not any questions regarding the Americans’ reasons for being in Afghanistan, including the civilian deaths and U.S. tactics. The movie doesn’t explore any of these either. In fact one of the things that pisses me off is that the film did nothing to explore why the Americans have had such a tough time winning over the heart and minds of many people in Afghanistan, when it is quiet obvious to the intelligent outsider. Maybe the reason the goat-herder boy’s eyes were filled with hatred towards the SEALs was because his father had been killed by an American, or maybe the torturing and killing of prisoners by U.S. interrogators during Dick Cheney’s time in office. But of course in the minds of the neo-cons and Bush, “if you are not with us, you are with the terrorists.” So being anti-war in the minds of many amounts to supporting the terrorists….smh

Let me steal a quote from David Edelstein in his review of the movie.

“….Berg leads you to the conclusion that these Americans were just too good, too true, too respectful. Luttrell’s operation — and his teams’ lives — might have been saved if they’d summarily executed three passing goat-herders rather than following the Rules of Engagement. I can’t imagine a single person watching the subsequent wave upon wave of Taliban fighters with their RPGs and machine-guns and not thinking, If only the Americans had put two bullets in the head of each of those guys, they’d be home with their wives and kids today. Lone Survivor is a brutally effective movie, made by people who think that they’re serving their country. But they’re just making us coarser and more self-centered. They’re perpetuating the kind of propaganda that sent the heroes of Seal Team 10 to their deaths.” -David Edelstein -vulture.com

Ultimately, however the film is powerful and emotional at times despite the constant barrage of blood-splattering gore and violence. As a human I can appreciate what these men went through and how much strength and courage it took to strive through it all even though in the all but one died. What troubles me, is the fact that here in America, we are okay with sending our daughters and sons off to war while we live in relative luxury. We are okay with men and women dying and killing in other countries in the name of ‘freedom’ when in reality most of us don’t even know what we are fighting against or why and what if… what if the truth has been hidden from us and maybe all these wars are really all predicated on lies and deceit from politicians and special interests who want to make sure that the continuity of government and the military industrial complex is safe and secure. In spite all I really don’t believe the film attempts to glorify war as some films do. It’s not even a one dimensional war flick with shallow, gun-ho, cursing soldiers that don’t give a rip about the enemy… but it sure as heck ain’t a critique of war…

The most frustrating thing to me is that both sides( the Americans and the Taliban) seem to think that God is on their side…With the Taliban yelling phrases about Allah they often appear as the religious nuts and crazies, but are the Americans really that different? In one scene that turns out to be positive, Luttrell smiles and says, “See? God’s looking out for us.” Implying that God is supporting them in their fight against the Taliban. Some people can throw some Old Testament verses at me, without context and theological training, but the fact is, that it contradicts the nature of Jesus. Jesus does not take sides in war and neither do I. There is no honor, there is no humanity in killing others for the entity of a nation.

In summary, “Lone Survivor,” was not a bad movie, at several points I found my eyes becoming watery. However both me and my uncle felt incredibly empty and saddened by it all. One can appreciate the intent of others to ‘protect’ our freedoms even if that is not what they are really doing. I will continue to and will always respect men and women who serve America, but I do not support them. There is a difference. I’m not saying men who fight in wars are necessarily evil, many are forced into that type of situation, such as many of the young Taliban fighters as young as me. I don’t pretend to be more morally sound then them, we all have our faults….but to move forward we have to call things out as they are, not how we want to see them.

As me and my uncle left the theatre, we found ourselves cleaning our eyes and ears (metaphorically of course). We commented to each other on how pointless it all was. Such young men (both Taliban and American) killing each other for such empty causes. I do not recommend this movie for the faint of heart and for anyone easily upset by violence.

I pray that one day there will be no more senseless violence and death.

I leave the song, “God and Country,” by Gungor to consider in light of this film