06/07/2016

Fury - Ideals Are Peaceful, History Is Violent

Thoughts On: Fury

A story of a crew aboard tank named Fury during the final push of the second world war.


I think it's best to start with a quick overview of this film. I think this is an ok war picture. There are very few great war films. I'm pretty sure I could name them all without much deliberation: All Quiet On The Western Front, Paths Of Glory, Deer Hunter, Full Metal Jacket, Platoon, Apocalypse Now and Saving Private Ryan. I could add to this Bridge On The River Kwai, The Grand Illusion, Dirty Dozen, Jarhead, Das Boot and (if it counts) Schindler's List. Now, this sounds like a lot films, but put into perspective, recognising how long war films have been into production and how many there are, this isn't much. Fury is on the fringes of this group, but doesn't quite make it there because it lacks poignancy. And that's the key factor of the war genre. Poignancy. These films are built off of an idea of extremism. The great war films all reveal an extremely brutal side of humanity, the side we seem to want to forget, to cast away and leave behind as to progress and evolve as a species. What this seems to culminate to, in my eyes, is the famous Truffaut quote:

'There's no such thing as an anti-war film'

This quote implies that war films have a Rocky effect. Don't worry, no need to Google that, I just made it up. When you watch Rocky, you, unless you're not paying attention, or are inherently stupid, get roused up. You feel like you can take on the world. Like you are the underdog and no one else is nothing more than an Apollo. Yeah, he's the world champion, yeah, he's a God, but, I'm feeling like an Italian Stallion, I can eat thunder! I can crap lighting! I CAN RUN THROUGH ANYTHING!! That there's the Rocky effect. I think Eddy Murphy says it best, but there's my explanation. Now, Truffaut makes the point that war films will rouse up their audience, will glorify the sacrifice of life and limb for nation, country and brother. It's then implied that by seeing war, by seeing violence, it makes a case that people stand by (to vary degrees).

Now, I've always thought the complete opposite. I've always thought that war films are inherently anti-war - and for the exact same reason. We are all made to see the violence, and from the comfort of our own homes or a theatre, we are made to appreciate peace, the safety we experience almost every single day of our lives. However, I don't think I'm completely right here. Firstly, it's completely down to the audience and the film whether or not they are made to feel war is good or bad. This all then comes down to the poignancy factor of the film. It can be negatively poignant, to make you fear violence (like Schindler's List would). Or, it can be positively poignant to pump you up, make you feel like you could face hell (like Dirty Dozen might). Now, whilst there is a poignancy factor, it's a mere influence on an audience - nothing more than a suggestion. It tries to tip the tables one way or another. With each and every war film I've ever seen, I'm made to feel both positive and negative effects, but in the end, one trumps the other. The best example I could give here would be Full Metal Jacket. The film starts out with R. Lee Ermy screaming, shouting and cursing and I'm locked in. I love the violence, the bravo, the fuck yous, the suck my dicks, the Gomer Pyles, the stacked shit. But, with the end of the second half, I'm made to feel that... oh, shit... I think this went to far. This cycle repeats itself with the second, and in my opinion, less poignant half. And because of the endings of these segments, I feel like Full Metal Jacket is an anti-war picture. But, just like not all films are universally either pro-war or anti-war, I feel that no specific film is pro-war or anti-war either. All films have elements of both. Now, this is where Fury comes back into the picture. Fury is bookended by quite good content, that ultimately doesn't pack so much of a punch. However, the mid-section is gold. What I'm talking about here is the simple sit down where Wardaddy and Norman try to enjoy a meal with a German family. Not only is this cinematically rich, ripe with atmosphere, tension and goddamn good acting, but it's imbued with the overarching philosophy of the film. This film, like almost all war films, is about peace and conflict.

Before we get into this idea, I think it's important to recognise why I chose this film over the likes of a Saving Private Ryan or Platoon. Fury is the film, out of all mentioned, that talks to the audience most directly. I say this with an incredible bias as I was not around, or growing up when the likes of All Quiet On The Western Front, Deer Hunter or Apocalypse Now first came out. This doesn't mean my point's invalidated though. This film has something that all mentioned don't. It's most far removed from its time and setting. This film came out in 2014, but is set in 1945. What's significant about this is that not only did it come out nearly 70 years late, but came out in a completely different world in respect to war. If you look at films like Jarhead, Black Hawk Down, American Sniper or Good Kill, war is presented as either a waiting game, a tense, hyper technical, or sometimes distant effort. The moral conflict of these films thus have a completely different focus to the likes of Deer Hunter or Paths Of Glory. War is shown to be something much more, it's strange to say, civilised - relaxed even. The image of a thousand young men in matching uniforms, all nameless, faceless, has practically been lost. We've gone from this:




To this:




The presentation of war on film has been hugely minimized. This has of course happened in reality too, but I'm not trying to make any other point on this than the one of change. Fury tries to comment on modern day with the ways of the past. This is best understood by the fact that this is a film very loosely based on true events. By and large this is a fantasy. Almost all other poignant war films are either biopics, historical or even personally allegorical. This means, the poignant mid-section of this film, the failed meal at the table, has a few words of it's own to say.

To understand the core of this failed dinner, I think it's best to return to what we opened with. Anti-war and pro-war films. It's this film that made it clear to me the truth in Truffaut's statement. Fury is largely about the biases of those outside of a war effort, outside of true, physical and tangible conflict. What fuels Truffaut's quote is the exact same idea of bias in an audience (or an outsider). Whilst he asserts that no film can be purely against war, I think it's fair to infer that no film can be completely pro-war either. An audience can never be 100% polarised. This all goes deeper though. No person can be 100% polarised. I think it's against our nature to wholeheartedly, unconditionally and forever believe in something. Whether it's a religion or simple moral, there's always going to be something capable of turning us over the edge, planting a seed of doubt. This kind of makes Truffaut's quote redundant as no film can be truly anti or pro anything, but let's hold onto it for a while. Zooming into Fury's philosophy we only need two things. We need an idea of ideals and an idea of reality. Ideals are largely presented through Norman:


Reality is presented by the crew as a whole...


... which leaves Don, Wardaddy, as the mediator.


It's easy to see Don in this respect:


It's easy to see him as adamant on enforcing an idea of brutality, of forcing Norman to recognise the reality of war, but his character isn't that simple. And this is what the table scene demonstrates. All Don wants is peace, something he almost has to fight for. Don has his ideals, as well as an idea of reality, of brutality in a conflicted context, within a conflicted concept of humanity. This juxtaposed image of shooting the Nazi and sitting down to eat eggs in peace proliferates outwards as the crux of human nature in my opinion. This idea of peace and conflict is inherent to everything we do. I find myself incapable of not returning to this theme with each film I analyse. Humans want opposing things. We want our Ipods, our clothes, shoes, houses, culture and are willing to overlook what we'd call injustices for that. We have ideals, ideas of peace, of tranquility, of equality, but as a distant dream. This conflict in all people is hard to rationalise though. It's easy to tell someone who claims there is inequality in society to 'fine, give up your privileges, act on what you believe' which is what no one really wants to do, but what is the message here? The message here is that people can't change, won't change, that we don't really care as deeply as we might suggest about other people. I believe this is an inherent and undeniable truth of people. We simply aren't as great as we like to project. But, what do we do with that? This is something I struggle with, but, is no better exemplified than with Don Collier sat at the table refusing to let his men ruin a peaceful moment. He finds peace in a warzone and dares to hold onto it, he dares to defy reality, to enforce peace. And it's with this that we can reach something like an epiphany. Peace has to be enforced - it can't just happen. Here, the cycle repeats itself, and here comes a huge convoluting force. Why should a WWII film be anti-war? Was WWII not about quashing a fascist regime, of stopping Nazi culture from dominating the world? Was in not about peace - fight for it? Why should we, or a film for that matter, oppose this?

It's here where the true conflict of everything discussed thus far comes in. It's never war, it's never violence, it's never oppression, inequity, inequality, injustice, it's never anything anyone has ever help up a sign to protest, that we are against. People are against the feelings they have in their chests, the thoughts they have in their heads that say: I'm scared. This feeling is, well... it's petrifying. The fear that we will come to harm, that we will face injustice or inequality, is what makes us oppose war or violence. It's thoughts that we are fighting with feelings. We are then always fighting ourselves. Metaphorically, we are fighting the mind with the heart. However, we are always fighting ourselves until we aren't. Until that thought becomes a reality. Until our feelings must become actions. It's now that fear becomes your best friend. Fear now will give you courage, will blind you to trepidation, will have you pick up your weapon and fight. What does this all mean? It means that the true enemy is peace. Peace is what has us fighting ourselves - internally. It's during times of security that we become paranoid, that we speculate, that we have thoughts fight feelings. In this respect that an idea of inertia, of not doing anything about injustices because 'that's how we're built, we're built to be unfair, imperfect', is key. It's the silence before the storm that makes the storm possible in this sense. What this all means is that things must build up to become a reality, so people can rise up and fight. What's now important is that we ask of the future. Does this mean we are doomed to live with paranoid peace until war explodes - all so we can quash the paranoia - just before everything cycles again? Well... the truth as far as I can see it is, yes. I'm keeping this all ambiguous to keep this idea as wide as possible - applicable to all kinds of conflict. This means I'm talking about the argument you feel is about to go down with your friend. The seemingly worsening state of race relations, of terrorism, of inequality, of inequity. Everything about these issues will have to build to a point where it's a force that must be faced, that must be fought, for us to defeat it. This is a hopeless reality as it implies that civil, rational conduct or negotiation is fruitless. This idea as fueled by major historic events like WWII implies that to get to the rational negotiation, to the real problem solving, we have to endure what is essentially catastrophe. Peace talk doesn't happen without a war in other words.

The argument against this is that people can do better, that we can evolve. To that I say, maybe. But then we just come back to the idea that 'Ideals Are Peaceful, History Is Violent'. Is this maybe nothing more than a hope, a dream, a wish one's heart aches? Is human nature insurmountable?

There's two take aways from this dismal perspective. The first is of human progress after major disasters. Suffering, especially in respect to war, is hopefully for a greater cause, for peace and comfort of others not just during suffering, but after. To give an example, WWII gave us a plethora of technological advancements that led to the modern day being as good as it is - not to mention it stopped million of more lives being taken. The second take away here is something for the individual. If peace is the enemy, then maybe it helps to embrace it. If peace is a source of paranoia, maybe we need to learn how to accept it, to live optimistically, never pessimistically, and as thoroughly as we can.

This all flips the film and its questions straight to you. Is this an anti or pro-war film? Or is it just a film of little effect beyond entertainment or hopefully a source of dilemmas, thought experiments? Are you an optimist? Are you a pessimist? What would you prefer to be? What would you do in Collier's position here:






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