Fury is one of the most important films of this year, at least politically. The narrative resonates with the sense of fatigue found in our society after two long wars along with the moral and political complexities of continued actions associated with the war on terror.
At its core the film is about the five member crew of an American Sherman tank crew in the Second World War’s closing days, but it is in many ways a treatise on armed violence as such. Deep in the heart of Germany the soldiers attempt to maintain a sense of poise and determination, despite the clarity with which they see the ultimate futility of the German resistance.
Promotional material for the film leads one to expect another in a long line of films which valourize the super-human exploits of American soldiers in the face of swarming masses of ‘Others’. Such films generally lack any commentary on the political or cultural context of the violent acts they at once valorize and celebrate. Black Hawk Down, wherein hordes of Somalis serve as fodder for US Ranger machine guns is one (in)famous example—the more recent Lone Survivor another.
But Fury is decidedly different. Rather than the kind of triumphalist, valorizing narrative one expects from the trailer, the film actually functions as a detailed deconstruction of such films at the same time that it begins to pry apart the cultural expectations of war in favour of a more direct engagement with the reality of conflict.
Rather than ‘righteous’ or even ‘virtuous’ the characters anger and violence have long since lost their centre and been set adrift; their actions spiral, they lash out, and their lack of clarity regarding the necessity of their behaviour hides awkwardly behind claims of necessity brought on by circumstance coupled with awkward assertion of faith (the religious iconography in the film could be an article in itself).
The film is in many ways book-ended by two particularly violent episodes. Having lost a long-term compatriot in a battle before the story begins, the crew of Fury (it is also the name of their tank) are assigned the fresh-faced recruit Norman (Logan Lerman) who is a typist without combat experience. When Norman fails to alert his advancing tank column of an ambush by Hitler Youth—an ambush which leads to the destruction of another tank and the horrific death of five US soldiers— Fury’s commander, Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt), takes horrific measures: he commits an egregious war crime. Wardaddy literally holds down Norman and forces him to shoot an unarmed, kneeling German prisoner in the back. The act is the first move towards Norman’s decent into rage–it also lays bare the monstrosness of the messianic Wardaddy who remains unredeemed at the films end.
The film ends with Fury stricken at a strategic cross-roads by a mine as a battalion of German SS approach. Wardaddy makes the individual decision to stay and fight, and his crew begrudgingly agree. What follows is a sensationalist flurry of violence as the crew massacres a huge number of German troops from their tank, until all but Norman (now given the war-name ‘Machine’) is left alive. The sheer unbelievably of the crew’s last stand resonates with similar climaxes in other war movies, but its characters and narrative serve to undermine the fantasy involved in such films.
The events leading up to the final scenes only serve to undermine our faith that the actions of these soldiers is morally unassailable, and the grotesque toll they reap on the Germany soldiers sits uncomfortably with the fact that we all (the characters included) understand that this is a war which has already ended. Rather than a film which valourizes violence in the name of abstract ideals, Fury lays them bear in their reality; forcing us to witness the grotesque and morally ambiguous nature of violence enacted by our societies when the have settled into a pattern of assumptions regarding the merits of force in a time of approaching peace, or at the least stability.
It is important to note that Norman lives; lying in the mud under Fury he is found by a young SS trooper who, confused, passes over him in silence.
The importance of this film should be juxtaposed against others which claim to incite social reflection on how or society chooses to use violence, especially during the ongoing war on terror. Zero Dark Thirty, in its painfully realistic torture scenes, was argued to provoke debate over the merits of such tactics in the name of national security. As Slavoj Žižek pointed out, however, Zero Dark Thirty’s depictions of torture severed to normalize such violence and obfuscate the moral character of such acts by marking them has complex enough to warrant various ethical perspectives.
Fury, in its depiction of military violence, in no way obfuscates the problem of moral paucity as it lays bare its ultimate barbarity despite the social necessity of such acts. One should not read Fury as claiming that the violence wrought by the world on the Nazi’s was somehow unclear or illegitimate—to do so would be to embrace a cartoon-ish post-modernism which sees no ethical imperative as inherently just. Fury instead insinuates that the violence and barbarism of the Nazis does not serve to automatically legitimize actions taken against them. In this way the film, in its fantastical and outlandish final scene, provokes a genuine engagement with what is and is not morally permissible in war, a lesson all too relevant currently.

Featured Photo by D. Miller.

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