In 2014, David Ayers directed the 135-minute World War II film Fury, starring Brad Pitt, Shia Labeouf, Jon Bernthal and Michael Peña. Laced with emotional arguments about respect, and God; this film is not the anger-driven rampage that its title and opening credits might lead you to believe. Actually, under the aggressive, testosterone-driven interpersonal conflicts, there is what I believe to be a very still and very present sadness about this film and the majority of its characters.
From War Daddy’s quiet desire for normalcy to Machine’s provisional love; the happenings of this film derive from the frustrations of the current situation, and add to the layers of sadness that drape each character in one way or another.
The Spoils of Victory
Opening to a majestic, white horse as it tramples softly through a grim battle that has recently ended, we see an exhausted Nazi as he rides atop the steed. Through fire and smoke, he purveys the spoils of his victory; slaughter. Hiding in the shadows of the dark morning, Brad Pitt, (known in this film as “War Daddy”), slings himself into the man as they both fall to the ground. Violent, powerful thrusts from a blade rip the chest of the Nazi as Wardaddy’s face, covered in dirt and grime, shows no signs of hate, nor malice, or even joy.
No excitement for the kill. No zeal for murder. Only a soft frown decorates the stone-walled face as he takes one more life.
Later in the film, we again see a glimpse of War Daddy’s warped dissonance as he chews into Norman (played by Logan Lerman), the rookie soldier, about needing to be able to kill. He shoves the butt of the gun hard into his chest, hoping that each jab makes the young man a bit more harsh; a bit colder, like him. He then attacks a Nazi POW with belligerence before retreating behind a truck to have a small breakdown.
The spoils of victory are taking a toll on the hardened-veteran, and it’s leaving him less than whole.
Love & War
It’s 1945, In Nazi Germany… and let’s just say Women’s Rights still have a long way to go. German women are raped, passed around and left where they are found during these times and it’s not given a second thought. That is, until Norman meets a young German girl (played by Alicia Von Rittberg) while he and War Daddy are gaining intel on a would-be abandoned building. In this moment he and the young woman have a brief but effective romance. He traces her hands and tells her that she will have one, true love in her life; and assuming that she is a virgin, Norman has proclaimed himself to be just the guy.
As Norman lays with the young girl behind closed doors, War Daddy, in his own way, also begins to enjoy the guilty pleasures of a domicile life. It is my opinion that a part of the Sergeant needed the break from war just as much as Norman, maybe more. Going as far as excluding his longtime army mates from a rather pleasant meal, likely for fear of them ruining his perfect moment.
I don’t believe the final act is possible without this moment of peace from the Sergeant. As Norman has his own moment of temporary bliss, War Daddy also has a moment of grounded delusion, outside of harsh metals and even harsher peoples; allowing him the understanding of what is truly at stake in his final moments.
From his brief breakdown behind an armored truck, to his overly-emotional outbursts about killing in cold blood, it is my belief that War Daddy, though both knowledgeable and capable, does not want to partake in the war anymore. He has great pride in what he does, and also has real disdain for the Nazi government but I’m not sure if he loves the job anymore and all the things that come with it.
Layers of Despair
Similar to the “spoils of war”, the layers of sadness throughout this film are rich. From Gordo’s inability to speak his native language in a time of despair and his fall into aggressive alcoholism to Grady’s self-destructive behavior and his desire to cause discomfort, a majority of the characters deal with their sadness in a way that is unique to them, but will also affect the crew around them going forward.
When the film begins we see Gordo (played by Michael Peña) showing his softer side as he holds the hand of his dead crew-mate. This doesn’t last long as he and War Daddy begin to argue about speaking Spanish in an American tank, leading Gordo to yell drunkenly that they’ve also spoken German in this same tank. It seems that Gordo’s drinking is a consistent theme but since they are all in war, it doesn’t much matter. You have to wonder though, had Gordo survived the final scene, what would his home life have been like post-war? A dark tale, I’d presume.
We can’t speak of sadness as it pertains to the film, Fury, without mentioning maybe the most outwardly damaged of all our characters, Grady (played by Jon Bernthal), a southern Gunner with a harsh mouth and an even more ‘hard-to-swallow’ demeanor. With Norman’s would-be love now dead and covered in gravel, Grady is the one to yell the hard truth at him. He tosses him off a mountain of rubble and tells him to get back in the tank unless he plans to bring the woman back from the dead. In this moment, we see that Grady has experienced loss several times before and is now virtually numb; whether in the war or out.
Another instance of Grady’s dysfunction is his desire to completely destroy what he understands to be a nice, peaceful and quaint dinner between the Sergeant, Norman, and their two female companions. He even goes so far as to wipe the woman’s eggs on his tongue, just to see her squirm. We later learn that Grady understands his wrongdoings but has gotten so set into his ways, while at war, that he no longer tries to deter himself. He tells Norman somberly “You’re a good man, Norman. I don’t think we’re good men… but you are”.
Fury, or Something More?
The definition of the word ‘fury’ in a normal, American dialect is “wild or violent anger”, and though this film does have its moments of intense hostility and vigor, it doesn’t seem that ‘wild’ or ‘violent’ would be either of the correct terms to describe the film to a person watching with fresh eyes.
Yes, the tank that wraps our four melancholy characters is named “Fury”. And yes, its tough, aggressive exterior does protect the several army men from outside attacks, including bombs, missiles, and gunfire. Not to mention, the word “Fury” is spray-painted in jagged, capital letters on the tank’s missile chamber, presumably in hopes of giving the crew a specific type of attitude and intimidating the enemy. So yes, maybe ‘Fury’ is the right word for the title of this film, but it is not the right word for the film’s subtext and theme.
The theme of this film, like the tank that stands as a shield for our main characters; is all about shielding sadness with strength. Protecting soft parts with tough parts and making it through.
David Ayers understands true strength.. and with that, he must understand true sadness.
What are some of the films that you feel have ulterior motives that differ from their respective film titles?
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