Fury: War and Evil Through the Eyes of Manly Christianity

fury

Maybe Fury is just another guys’ violent war movie about how war is hell.

But I doubt it

Fury is a war movie about a tank squad rumbling through the German countryside, killing SS and German soldiers near the end of World War II.

But it is so much more.

Battle movies can actually be quite boring if they reduce to guys spouting jokes and ironic lines as they move from battle scene to battle scene. But Fury does not degrade into that. Brad Pitt as the leader of the squad, “Wardaddy,” does a great job with a lead character that is otherwise a bit thin on development. The “new guy” protagonist, Norman, is an archetype of the innocent inexperienced soldier who comes of age in a brutal world. He struggles with his first kill, helped by Wardaddy, and has to grow up fast by accepting the tragic reality that whatever he does or doesn’t do directly affects the survival of his comrades in arms. So, when Norman is forced to kill his first SS captive, he balks and says it isn’t right. Wardaddy explains that it isn’t about right and wrong, it’s about survival against soldiers who will kill you if you do not kill them first. This is not a brutish denial of morality, but rather a simplified way of explaining the hard reality that when evil people seek to kill you, if good men do not kill them first, then evil will prevail. Sound at all familiar with the terror of today? At another moment, Wardaddy says to Norman the theme of the film, “Ideals are peaceful, history is violent.” It seems that to Wardaddy, it is the soldier’s sacrifice that builds the freedom upon which normal citizens can have the luxury to moralize.

In another memorable scene, Wardaddy and Norman find an apartment with a lady and her young daughter (or niece. I can’t remember). Wardaddy cleans up and has the women make them a home cooked meal in a tension filled metaphoric attempt to experience that semblance of civil society that they had to give up to fight the war. Wardaddy also keeps his more animalistic members of the squad from raping the women. It showed the human decent side of a harsh leader that seeks to keep the goodness of what they fought for in his memory.

One word: Profound.

Ad300x250-TEAWcommentaryBut what moved me most about the film was Shia LeBeouf’s stellar performance as Boyd Swan, a Bible believing Christian. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a real manly Christianity in a Hollywood movie like this. Normally, they are Roman Catholic or other mainline denomination, which are more safe characters to play. But such Protestants or Evangelical Christians are usually portrayed as nutballs, murderers and hypocritical leches. Three cheers to Director David Ayer for finally portraying an Evangelical Christian with positive rigorous and manly vigor!

Shia’s wordless looks alone stole the movie and said more than all the words being tossed around between the men. Not once was Boyd mocked by the storyteller. Oh, sure, his buddies in the story mocked him playfully, but in the end, they all respected him and his convictions. There is even a theological discussion about God’s love in relation to evil men like Hitler, and I could not believe that the issue was wrestled with honestly and with integrity unlike what I have seen before in a war movie (Other than To End All Wars). It showed that clearly the writer director was a Christian because it showed a nuance and depth unseen in other movies by non-Christian storytellers who observe faith from a distance without understanding.

There is a moment the night before the men face their ultimate battle. It is the “dark night of the soul” moment in the story. Boyd mentions a Bible verse that led him into the war, “And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And then Wardaddy finishes the verse, saying, “Then I said, “Here I am! Send me. Isaiah 6:8.” And we see that Wardaddy is not as cold and cruel and cynical as he appears on the surface. There is more to what we see here than a brute fighting machine.

The men all share a “Last Supper” of sorts with a drink of bourbon and a smoke. It is a holy moment as they face their sacrificial impossible last fight. The men are not unscathed by the horrors of war. They have all been damaged, and the faith of Boyd deals squarely and honestly with that reality. It doesn’t devolve into a blinded ideological denial.

Ad300x250-TEAWscriptBut the point is that rather than making faith at odds with the war, as an unlivable contradiction, or even as something to be mocked as an oddity of personality in one of the characters, the Christian faith of Boyd actually becomes the thing that gives true spiritual depth to the meaning and sacrifice of the story. Without Christianity, war is senseless survival of the fittest with death upon death. But only with Christianity can the purpose of fighting transcend mere will to power and give meaning to the notion of good fighting for justice in an evil world. It isn’t easy and it doesn’t give all the answers, but it is a muscular faith that faces the gritty real world.

The writer director David Ayer is my new storytelling hero.

21 comments on “Fury: War and Evil Through the Eyes of Manly Christianity

  • truthunites says:

    “In another memorable scene, Wardaddy and Norman find an apartment with a lady and her young daughter (or niece. I can’t remember).”

    If I’m not mistaken, I think Emma was the lady’s cousin.

    Another brief scene that jolted me theologically was when “Bible” asked Norman if he was saved. And Norman said that he was baptized. And the rest of the crew just laughed and said something like, “Boy, that was not what he asked you.”

    That was as great a dismissal of the doctrine of baptismal regeneration that I’ve ever seen in a film. And then the writer-director follows it up with a character saying something like, “You’re one of them mainliners, ain’t ya?”

    I was absolutely stunned by the theological nuance by Ayer. Jaw-droppingly stunned.

    Reply
    • Brian_Godawa says:

      I am glad you brought that up. I thought the SAME thing when I saw it. Nuance not present in other movies. An understanding of true faith. I wish I could have recorded the discussion about whether God would forgive Hitler. It was also nuanced brilliantly.

      Reply
  • Hi Brian, thanks for making this entry about Fury. The main thing I walked out of the cinema with this movie, men are damaged by war, that is men who fights in war. While this theme is not new, it is told in a different way. On the Christian elements, I have a few questions to ask and see what you think of it.

    On the quote of Isaiah, isn’t that taken out of context, that the mission of Isaiah to proclaim judgement and salvation to God’s people was the original message. Is that a typical experience in the army in the war where American Christian soldiers take passages out of context to make meaning of their situation? To be fair this can happen anywhere even in the churches today where heroic passages like that are taken to suit the vision of churches or individual situations. The contrast in the movie here is that they are not proclaiming judgement and salvation, but they are executing judgement against Nazis, where as the book Isaiah has many warnings but it also give hope in regards to godly repentance.

    As to Shia LeBeouf’s character, Boyd, I am not sure I would agree totally he is portrayed as the shining example of a vigorously manly Christian man. In some scenes, he was seen as passive when the Wardaddy’s men were about to take the women where they were having a meal. Other than his words about Christ and being saved, I don’t see him any different from his crew members in terms of action. Except for one scene where we see him praying with a dying soldier. I do see though he is portrayed as a man struggling to make sense and react to situations in his journey of the war. He is definitely portrayed as an inconsistent Christian who sins, and cuss a lot as well ;). In that aspect he can be said to be of some Christians, good exemplary example, I am not sure.

    The third troubling element about Fury is swearing of F word was pervasive, where as I noted elsewhere the word wasn’t widely used in the 1940s. When The Pacific tv series came out, some veteran soldiers wrote in shared that the portrayal of army men swearing with F word was uncommon in their divisions. Is that something that the director put our modern (or postmodern ) cultural language into a WW2 film which shouldn’t be there in the first place? I am not against obscenities if it serves a purpose to portray accurately of the characters of their times and place. What do you make of this?

    Perhaps the main discussion more so relevant today, is that war is evil, it is a necessary evil in a fallen world. But individuals who fights in the war, even if they are on the right side, can also spread evil, becomes harden, searing their own moral conscience to survive in the darkest situations. How would a Christian solider respond in such situation, will certainly be an interesting thing to discuss.

    Thanks again as always, to continue to write about movies. Blessings.

    Reply
    • Thanks for your thoughtful remarks, Robin.
      You make good points. I suppose you could say that the Isaiah passage is out of context with the Gospel intent technically. But I think the principle of being willing to step up and be God’s instrument (in this case of justice) is the main point there that I think translates.

      I won’t argue with you about Shia’s character Bible. Yes, he was not perfect. I know of no Christian who is. But he was realistic and a sinner saved by grace with his own faults. But consider this: When was the last time you ever saw an Evangelical portrayed with such complexity and favor? I can’t think of a time.

      I wrote a movie about POWs in WWII. I read the stories and they didn’t have swearing in them. But when the actors put it in, I was angry, not for moral reasons but for realism reasons. UNTIL I heard from the guys whose story I was telling and he said, “Oh yeah, a lot of cussing.” I think that in our past culture, there may have been more of a difference of the PUBLIC presentation of soldiers versus their PRIVATE experience. Not lying, but rather that they simply felt a responsibility to be more respectful in their public presentation than in their private out of respect. Whereas the modern soldier does not. So I’ve heard both sides.

      I think you have your finger on the importance of it when you suggest that this is a conversation starter. I do happen to think that war does harden souls, even righteous souls, in a negative way. Look at King David. But this does not mean that war is bad or wrong. Rather than the politically leftist agenda of “War is hell,” (Which in later years has become “War is insane” see Apocalypse Now) I think,the better saying is that “In war, no one is unscathed.” Not so much necessary evil, but there are consequences to fighting evil that can turn justice into revenge or other twisted motives. But also, killing people, no matter how justified morally, still hurts the human soul, because that evil person, though deserving, is still in God’s image. THAT is the inescapable that affects us all, even the evil.

      My novels are about this very thing, since they are about the very violent world of Bronze Age Israel.

      Reply
      • Dear Brian, sorry for replying so late. When I re-read my own writing here in the first entry, I was embarrassed by a number of awkward sentences I wrote, I must have written that in a bad morning without coffee hahaha. Back to your reply, I really appreciate the thoughts you put into your response. You have given me something useful to think about. It’s always interesting to see what others took away from the movie like Fury.

        In another podcast someone mentioned we should pray for the actors that played in the movie, due to recent circulating news of Shia’s conversion to Christianity, that they may see the light of Christ. Pray that the director may make good future films to create conversations on the gospel when it is fitting. Pray for the industry as a whole and for other directors to come to think deeper about the materials they are dealing with when it relates to Christianity, especially for Christians involving in the vocation of filmmaking, and story telling.

        Blessings Brian.

        Reply
      • Brian, I forgot 2 points. Anyone who is reading this, SPOILER ALERT. Don’t read this if you haven’t seen the movie.

        The german soldier that closed one eye and let Norman go at the last moment before they marched off, that was an interesting scene. Why did he let him go without dragging him out under the tank? The german solider was young too. I thought that add some interesting moment to the film, sort of saying, “this guy had enough of hell, let’s just move on..”

        The second point is, do you think most european ww2 theatre movies from Hollywood has portrayed all German soldiers accurately? Sure, the SS and Nazis were evil in general, but are all individual German soldiers evil as Hitler and his generals? We haven’t seen many materials coming out of Germany looking from their POV from WW2 stories.

        thanks.

        Reply
        • Brian_Godawa says:

          You are right. All Germans were not Nazis, and they were humans too. Das Boot was a great movie from the German’s perspective. Can anyone else on this thread name some movies where German soldiers were portrayed as very human?

          Reply
  • I think you missed the theological point of this movie completely. Wardaddy is the Devil. He doesn’t just want compliance, he wants assent. He is a manipulator who wants the souls of his men corrupted by the evil of war. He doesn’t “help” Norman get his first kill, he tries to corrupt his conscience by forcing him to commit murder. That doesn’t work, so he entices him with sex, and somewhat rapey sex at that. Then he plays the “honorable” man and keeps his other minions from doing what they want to do, and what he implicitly threatened to do just a few minutes earlier. Not because it is right, but to further solidify Norman’s confidence in him.
    It is all a mind game to corrupt and control the innocent. And it works. Norman has been destroyed. That is why it is important when Bible asks him if he’s saved early on. He is asking him about what he BELIEVES, and not what he has done. Norman doesn’t understand this distinction. Boyd does, and further reiterates it to the dying soldier, and when he is talking about the possibility of Hitler being saved. Christ didn’t die to save anyone from man’s justice. He died to negate it. Wardaddy just seduced Norman into the pattern of the world, and man’s “justice” in war.

    Reply
    • truthunites says:

      Tom, you make a reasoned case for WarDaddy being the devil, but I have to ultimately reject your case for the following simple reason:

      WarDaddy told his crew members to go and save themselves. He was going to stay and fight off the Gestapo all by himself in Fury for as long as he could.

      The Devil doesn’t do self-sacrifice.

      Reply
    • “He doesn’t “help” Norman get his first kill, he tries to corrupt his conscience by forcing him to commit murder.”

      You could see it that way.

      However, WarDaddy just saw that Norman’s abandonment of his duties as a soldier was jeopardizing not only the lives of his tank crew, but the lives of other American soldiers. Please recall that Norman’s cowardly dereliction of duty cost the tank ahead of “Fury” to be blown up, and those dead American lives was on Norman. Moreover, Norman’s moral cowardice was partially on WarDaddy’s conscience because a leader is responsible for the actions of his men.

      WarDaddy cannot have a coward’s actions costing the lives of his men.

      Sorry, but WarDaddy is not the Devil. He was just a soldier trying to keep himself and his men alive during a time of horrific craziness. Just because he didn’t do it the way you would have preferred doesn’t make him the Devil.

      Reply
  • “WarDaddy told his crew members to go and save themselves. He was going to stay and fight off the Gestapo all by himself in Fury for as long as he could.”

    I see that as more manipulation. When I say he is the devil, I mean that his goal is to subvert the souls of his men. His self-sacrifice was part of this. Wardaddy accepts war as the way of the world, and loves it. He doesn’t care about anything but what counts in this world, and even quotes the scripture “if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him”. That is a reference to him, although Bible seems to take it as some sort of conversion on his part. It isn’t. It is his recognition of where he actually stands in relation to the gospel. His “self sacrifice” was a matter of pride, and was even framed as such. He says something to the effect of “I’ve never run away from a fight”. I don’t recall him saying anything about how important it is to stay and fight in order to save other lives.

    Reply
    • “When I say he is the devil, I mean that his goal is to subvert the souls of his men.”

      Nope. Not his goal at all. Actually, as it turned out, their noble sacrifice to delay the SS was bravery, and soul-redemptive.

      If you recall one of the last lines of the movie spoken to Norman:

      “Son, you’re a hero.”

      Those words resonated. And you could just imagine Norman pondering that he’s not the hero, not the hero at all, but that the heros were actually his tankmates that died nobly.

      “I don’t recall him saying anything about how important it is to stay and fight in order to save other lives.”

      So much of acting and screenplay writing is non-verbal. The character doesn’t have to verbalize something for the audience to know that WarDaddy was going to obey orders to hold off the SS, and that he was operating on duty and honor, even if it was going to cost him his life. But he didn’t want the others to make the same choice as him. He told them to go.

      Reply
      • Tom, I think your view of Collier Wardaddy was way off base. He is a hardened but also a conflicted man. The way I see it is he hardened himself to be single minded in a war torn situation where lives are depending on that swift decision whether it is right or wrong. At the same time he wish to be sane, to experience normality but battle after battle meant that he concentrated on survival of his men and himself against the enemy.

        Truthunites, I don’t think Norman was acting from a non-couragious point of view when he found himself not being able to shoot the enemy. He saw how young the German soldier was, and he couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger, I think that’s more to do with a conflicted conscience. Norman might have have his glorious moments in other vocations, but not as a soldier.

        Nevertheless, you made some interesting points.

        Reply
        • Robin, I think you have a good point about Norman not being able to pull the trigger because he saw that it was a young German teenage boy.

          I think WarDaddy later saw the youth of that German uniformed boy and understood why Norman hesitated. Yet WarDaddy still decided to forcefully remind Norman that his inaction, his dereliction cost the lives of other American soldiers. If Norman did shoot like he was supposed to, then WarDaddy wouldn’t have made Norman shoot that German soldier. Norman’s inaction spurred WarDaddy’s teaching moment.

          Also, Norman did do a reasonable job eventually. He even earned a nickname from his tankmates. If I recall, it was “Sheen” as in Machine as in Killing Machine. Because he did a good job gunning down Germans.

          Reply
  • “When I say he is the devil, I mean that his goal is to subvert the souls of his men.”

    “Nope. Not his goal at all. Actually, as it turned out, their noble sacrifice to delay the SS was bravery, and soul-redemptive.”

    First off, their “sacrifice” has nothing to do with Wardaddy’s goal, so I’m not sure how you think that is a rebuttal. Secondly, if you think their works were at all soul-redemptive, then I think your theology is amiss, and you aren’t even on the same page as Boyd.

    “If you recall one of the last lines of the movie spoken to Norman:

    “Son, you’re a hero.”

    Those words resonated. And you could just imagine Norman pondering that he’s not the hero, not the hero at all, but that the heros were actually his tankmates that died nobly.”

    No, that isn’t what I got from it. I think the irony was that there was nothing heroic about any of them. “Hero” is just some crap that people say to make themselves feel better about the atrocities that are done in the name of their cause.

    ““I don’t recall him saying anything about how important it is to stay and fight in order to save other lives.”

    So much of acting and screenplay writing is non-verbal.”

    Oh, so I guess you can just interject whatever interpretation you want?

    “The character doesn’t have to verbalize something for the audience to know that WarDaddy was going to obey orders to hold off the SS, and that he was operating on duty and honor,”

    Lol. You have got to be kidding me. This scumbag murdered a surrendered soldier, and threatened to rape a woman to coerce Norman into doing it instead. Apparently we have very different views of “honor”, because I didn’t see anything honorable about anything he did.

    “even if it was going to cost him his life. But he didn’t want the others to make the same choice as him. He told them to go.”

    Riiiiigggghhhhtt. And you think he really expected them to go? Come on. It was manipulation, pure and simple. When Norman volunteered to stay he didn’t try to stop him, he said “good, I’ll need someone to reload”. It was a freakin ruse being played by a guy who has already been demonstrated to deal in mind games.

    Reply
  • “However, WarDaddy just saw that Norman’s abandonment of his duties as a soldier was jeopardizing not only the lives of his tank crew, but the lives of other American soldiers. Please recall that Norman’s cowardly dereliction of duty cost the tank ahead of “Fury” to be blown up, and those dead American lives was on Norman. Moreover, Norman’s moral cowardice was partially on WarDaddy’s conscience because a leader is responsible for the actions of his men.”

    Norman has no “moral cowardice”. When Wardaddy threatens to kill him he stands his ground, and is more willing to die than commit murder. What Wardaddy sees as a threat to him and his men is Norman’s clean conscience. So he tries to corrupt him, and succeeds.

    Reply
    • Tom: “I think you missed the theological point of this movie completely. Wardaddy is the Devil.”

      Robin: “Tom, I think your view of Collier Wardaddy was way off base.”

      Agree with Robin.

      Amounts to this.

      Salesman: “WarDaddy is the Devil.”

      Customers: “Not buying it. No sale.”

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.