Skip to main content

What's being said about 'Rambo'

The last couple of days, I've been seeking out the response of folks to Sylvester Stallone's Rambo, the fourth chapter (and latest sequel in decades) in the First Blood series. While it isn't doing well with critics, it seems to be growing (somewhat) in appreciation among viewers.

Why my interest? Mostly, because of Stallone's recent discussions of his renewed faith and the effect he says it has on his filmmaking. Personally, I saw that influence in his 2006 Rocky Balboa, which I must admit I found a thoroughly enjoyable film.

But I won't see this one, not because I'm not curious about if and how Stallone's growth in faith affects John Rambo, but because of the violence--which is apparently one of the main elements of the film. In his review at Christianity Today, Russ Breimeier (who gives the film 2 out of 4 stars) says there are two kinds of violence:
The first is the more disturbing kind, yet ironically the more "acceptable." I'm talking about movies like Schindler's List and Hotel Rwanda, which realistically show the persecuted enduring unimaginable suffering. I personally feel some obligation in seeing such films, as they raise awareness of real events going on in the world—things that we can work toward ending as both Christians and Americans.

Stallone clearly didn't want to shy away from the horrors of genocide in Burma, pushing the film's envelope well past anything that Hotel Rwanda left out.
The second, says Breimeier, comes in the second half of the film, after watching the horrors above:
Now we're entering territory where violence is glorified, railroaded into wanting Rambo to kill the bad guys—and we want them killed in the worst way possible. Which of course he does, and this is by far the bloodiest of all the Rambo movies. Not just because of the horrors of the Burmese-Karen conflict, but because sniper bullets cause heads to explode like watermelons and Rambo unloads a machinegun cannon into soldiers at point blank range. Yeesh, take that!
In my younger years (oh, how I hate saying that), this second kind of violence (though admitedly not as graphic) was not uncommon in films my generation grew up with. We got to the point of watching it without being phased too much. Not that I'm proud of that. But these days, it bothers me a lot more. In fact, I more or less steer away from it.

However, that first kind of violence--the kind that realistically puts on the big screen the horror experienced by far too many in this world--is one I've never been able to handle well. Decades ago, watching a young soldier try to hold in his guts in Platoon made that film the last I ever watched when it comes to realistic war pictures. (As much as I want to, I still can't bring myself to watch Saving Private Ryan.) Schindler's List--an incredibly wonderful film--reduced me to almost uncontrollable sobbing.

Now, please hear me, I'm not one to shy away from the reality of horrors in the world (such as what is taking place in Burma). In fact, I passionately advocate awareness of some of these horrors taking place today (like the Sudan). And I'm also passionate that the stories of suffering and injustice must be told as powerfully and realistically as possible--and story on film is one of the best ways I know to get those horrors into our living rooms and hearts so we'll be moved enough to do something about it.

I'm just not sure Rambo is one of those films I'm willing to put myself through to work Burma further into my heart (a place that already has a foothold there). And, like Breimeier, I wonder if the use of the second kind of violence muddles any call to action the first might elicit.

But I'll be curious to see how others respond to the film. Breimeier says some interesting things about Stallone's portrayal of Christians and the motivations of followers of Jesus to reach into these dark and horrific corners of the world. If you see the film, let me know how you think Stallone did.

Comments