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What is “Fury” trying to say?

Columbia-Pictures

David Ives - published on 10/17/14

A puzzling, morally ambiguous film about men at war

Well, I’m not sure what to tell you about this one. The audience filing out of our screening of “Fury” was obviously pleased, tossing out descriptive comments such as “intense” and “nerve-wracking” and “full of great acting.” And that’s all true—“Fury” is all of those things. But when someone finally got around to asking my opinion, all I could offer at the moment was, “I haven’t made up my mind yet.” You see, I was still trying to figure out exactly what this movie was trying to say. I kind of still am.

On the one hand, “Fury” appears to want us to honor the heroic sacrifices made by the men who volunteer to go to war for their country. On the other, it seems to want to convince us that there are no heroes in war to be honored. There is a moral ambiguity that hangs over the film as thick as the fog which opens and closes it.

It is in that fog we first see the tank known as Fury, sitting mud covered and immobile amongst an untold number of dead bodies and burning vehicles. Fury’s crew is huddled inside still alive, however, and the film wastes no time in setting up their disparate personalities.

There’s Wardaddy (Brad Pitt) the grizzled commander, Gordo (Michael Peña) the alcoholic Mexican-American driver, Bible (Shia LaBeouf) the scripture quoting shell loader and “Guy With The Nickname I Probably Can’t Say On A Religious Site” (Jon Bernthal) the southern redneck gunner. It’s a group straight out of every war movie or comic book ever made.

The stereotypes aren’t lazy screenwriting, though. Instead, they’re a means of quickly drawing us in so that we can just as quickly recognize there is something wrong with these men. This becomes apparent after a still wet-behind-the-ears desk jockey named Norman (Logan Lerman) is assigned to be the crew’s new assistant driver. The veterans begin to rag on Norman about where he might be from, because that’s what you do to rookies in these kind of movies, but when Norman actually starts to tell them where he was born, the others quickly let him know they don’t really care. Norman is just another potential dead person to them. That’s how they’ve come to see the world.

Norman’s first given task is to clean the remains of his predecessor out of the tank, a duty he grudgingly carries out until he finds half the man’s face lying on the floor. Then he vomits. An audience member or two might as well. The movie unflinchingly depicts the physical cost of war. Even when the excessive use of tracer fire calls to mind the pew-pew weapons of Star Wars, you’re quickly shocked back to reality as bodies begin to burst. There is more gore in “Fury” than in your average “Saw” film, but it’s done for the sake of realism rather than entertainment, if that matters.

Having his fears that Norman is not ready for the realities of combat confirmed, Wardaddy tries to force the boy to shoot a captured German soldier in the back. Wardaddy’s reasoning is that once a war reaches a certain point, the only way to end it is to keep killing the enemy until they give up. To do that, you need men on your side willing to kill the enemy at any time. Oddly, none of the 30 or 40 soldiers watching this scenario play out does or says anything to stop it. Do they agree with Wardaddy, are they too shocked to act, is it a little bit of both? We’re never told.

The moral ambiguity of the film comes to a head, oddly enough, in the movie’s one extended non-battle scene. Having helped capture a small German town, Wardaddy drags Norman up to an apartment where he’s noticed two women are hiding. To Norman’s amazement, Wardaddy comforts the women, provides them with food for a meal and encourages Norman to seek sex with the younger of the two ladies while he relaxes and reads a paper.

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