In Conclusion: Or Why I love the Rambo Series

Sylvester Stallone Rambo First Blood movie image

Going against my normal blogging schedule, I spent last week reviewing the Rambo series. Let me sum up.

First, I’ll admit that some of my love is due to my proclivity for melancholy movies. I don’t need a movie to be completely happy to enjoy it. In fact, I like movies and stories that leave you feeling resolved but a bit haunted. I blame this on too much Tolkien as a child. One of the reasons I enjoy a good war movie—amongst many other things—is the sweet sense of the long battle’s end mixed with the bitter taste of those who didn’t make it. Why? Cause this is life, and this is the Christian life.

Rambo deals with a more subtle and subconscious concept of those who don’t make it. Some heroes make it off the battlefield but not out of the war. I enjoyed this aspect of the storytelling. We can all think of scars we bear that haven’t healed. Some of us, some of those around us, are still fighting battles we can’t see. The Rambo series takes this concept, gives it a body, form, and setting, and then sits back and lets the sparks fly.

Second, I like the conclusion. First Blood introduces a broken hero and doesn’t heal him. First Blood II shows him harnessing his broken-ness for the sake of others like himself, but again, due to betrayal Rambo is left without the salvation he brought to them. It’s not until Rambo (4), when he fights for American citizens, when he fights for the weak, when he uses his warrior-ness to protect, defend, and save, when he comes full circle and is acknowledged by the people he saves as having a place in society, that he heals.

Third, though it may sound trite, we need to deal with and not forget Vietnam as a nation. It’s important that we understand how it was to fight in that war and come home to rejection. If we forget what happened we might do it again. Don’t look at the Rambo movies as us fighting the war over so we can win this time. Look at it as an exaggeration of what the warriors endured. They fought and left brothers on the battlefield. They came home and were rejected. They were left behind and abandoned by their government over and over. They felt dirty and wrong for what they were. Rambo shows all of this in a riveting fashion. Don’t miss it for the bits of cheese. (Again, I’m ignoring Rambo III.)

Fourth, they show the common struggle of many young men in our own generation. Women have it easy right now. We know who we are, what we’re good at, how we can use that, and we have options. We can be anything we want right now. We are living in the post-feminist era. In our rush to get women out to the front, we’ve unbalanced our society. Instead of men and women standing shoulder to shoulder sharing strength and mitigating weaknesses, we have become a very feminine society. What does that mean? We are more concerned about feelings and safety than is healthy. It’s like little boys raised without fathers by overly protective mothers. See, women want to make sure everyone is happy and at peace, but sometimes peace and happiness aren’t what’s most important. Sometimes hard and uncomfortable work needs to be done. Kids are going to get hurt and protecting them from everything may not be in their best interest.

Rambo shows, again in an exaggerated form, a man struggling to come to grips with who and what he is within a society that has rejected him, called him dangerous, and attempted to deal with him in a violent manner. In a more subtle way, I think many men can relate to this. Instead of being disciplined, trained, and taught, we medicate them, belittle them, and tell them everything about them is wrong. We tell men that they are only worthwhile when they’re as much like women as possible. We’ve neutered our own society. Rambo does what all good stories do. It showcases a common human element without preaching.

Now, I know that the original writers and actors probably never had any of this in mind, but my husband—a man—tells me this is what’s appealing to him about the Rambo story. And I see it too. I’m a homemaker in a day and age where that is the most underappreciated job. I can watch Rambo and see myself. I can feel his frustration with being something that is no longer valued. I think any person has experienced this at one time or another in their life. It is a common human experience.

Granted, I’m watching these movies through some fairly conservative moral sunglasses. But, we all bring what we believe to the table when we watch movies and read books. That’s life.

Finally, the last thing about my love for Rambo is spiritual. We are often described in the Bible as soldiers in the great Spiritual War. Most analogies and illustrations break down when examined closely. This one does not. Meaning, I know we are in the middle of a real spiritual war, but we don’t wear specific metal pieces of armor. We do have spiritual armor. The idea of being like a soldier training, standing, battling is a good illustration because it is true, and because it doesn’t break down. The more I learn about war, battle, and soldiers, the deeper the idea becomes. For me, warriors are like our pastors. The men who dedicate everything they are to defend us and feed us are like warriors who repeatedly return to combat. Warriors give up on everything ‘normal’ about this life and so do pastors. Pastors make other people uncomfortable. They pass on careers. They pass on high paying jobs. They give up on so much of life to do what? Study the Bible and preach? Don’t let the commonality of pastors and churches in our country make you take what they do for granted. They are our warriors. And like Rambo, they often face rejection, hatred, disrespect, and abuse. Pray that your pastors will not cave, but stand. Pray they will have confidence not in themselves but in the Lord who gave them gifts and set their feet on this course.

These are the reasons behind my love for the Rambo movies.