Thursday, January 31, 2008

John Rambo: To Hell and Back

Rambo 4

[Warning: This review contain spoilers]

The situation of Rambo 4 is just not something you want to be in while you are on a mission trip. Seriously! Since Christians are in the resurrection business, we shall examine whether it is possible to resurrect a 20 years old trilogy with a 61 years old actor. John Rambo is a cult figure; on par there with G.I. Joe. Both have wonderful action figures.

Twenty years ago, John Rambo hit the big screen and was an instant hit. Starred by a young and slimmer Sylvester Stallone, it portrayed the homecoming of a Special Forces Vietnam veteran. The first movie was named Rambo: First Blood, based loosely on a novel of the same name by David Morrell. In the movie, John was rough handled by a small town sheriff who mistaken him for a drifter and in retaliation, a small town in the United States was almost blown up and burnt down.

The second movie was Rambo: First Blood Part 2, where a more muscular John was enlisted to find American P.O.W.s in Vietnam and ended in a successful rescue operation.

The third movie was just named Rambo 3 where John blows up a Soviet mountain fortress in Afghanistan. All these movies were violent with gory scenes of killing, maiming, explosion and destruction. However, all three movies highlighted certain groups of oppressed communities. In the first, were the unappreciated Vietnam veterans who fought in a highly unpopular war; in the second, the left behind prisoners of war in Vietnam, and in the third, the oppressed in Afghanistan under the Soviet Union. It is highly ironic that the Americans armed forces have replaced the Soviet forces today.

This movie is about another group of oppressed people, the Karens of Myanmar. The Karens are Christian tribal people and have been at war with the Myanmar military Junta for 60 years, making it the longest civil war in history. There have been reports of atrocities committed by the military that was graphically shown in the movie. It was 20 years after John Rambo left Afghanistan and went to live in Thailand. He was living a quiet retiring life when he was approached by some American missionaries to bring them up river into Myanmar. He reluctantly agreed. The group was captured by the local warlord. John was approached by the church pastor to lead a group of mercenaries to rescue them. This he did with a great deal of noise, explosions and flying body parts. The movie does raise some interesting questions.

First, what is the nature of Christian mission? Does God want his people to travel into volatile and hostile political situations to minister comfort and his word? The American missionaries wanted to bring medicine and food to the Karens. It is interesting to watch in the movie, scenes of them feeding the tribal people, treating their medical conditions and preaching from the Bible. In a way, moving into these unstable situations is asking for trouble. Reports of missionaries killed and recently of the Korean missionaries’ hostage situation highlight these. What is the Christian response? Do we still go, knowing that we will be tortured and killed? And when our missionaries were captured, what should the sending agency’s response? Negotiate, pay the ransom, or send in mercenaries?

Second, the issue of pacifism and ‘just’ war arises in the story. Initially the leader of the missionaries was a pacifist but became a killer after his imprisonment. The violence in the movie is consuming. At the beginning, when the soldiers were committing atrocities on the civilians, we watch with horror. At the second part when the ‘good’ guys started killing the soldiers, we feel satisfied and even gratified. Our sense of justice seems to be fulfilled. In a sense, we even begin to enjoy the violence.

Third, this movie brings to a close the spiritual journey of John Rambo. During the trilogy, John tried to justify his action by blaming the military for making him a ‘killing machine.’ In this movie, he came to realise that he was already a psychopath before the army trained him. This self-realisation brought peace to John Rambo and this movie ended with him reaching his home in the States, a journey he started 3 movies and 20 years ago. It is a journey of self-discovery and sometimes we need to come to terms as to who we are before we can move on.

Finally, the movie asks an important question; is violence ever justifiable? This is a violent movie but it never glorified violence. Violence was used to portray the evil that is in our hearts and our deeds. It was used to show how one community oppresses another.Violence was also used as a means of redemption. Unlike the earlier three movies, I walked away from this one shaken and stirred.

Parental guidance is needed and some scenes were too graphic even for me. You have been warned.


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