Fury: A Tale of Hawks and Doves in World War II

I love Flickchart.com (Who doesn’t love Flickchart?) One of the fun side project hobby things I’ve been doing since I was invited to join the Gang of Thugs is reviewing old The Next Reel podcasts and viewing the subject movies when/if I haven’t seen them. I’ve been doing it because I like the show and I like movies and — especially in the case of The Film Board’s episodes — I want to be able to make an informed ranking decision when we Flickchart things at the end of our show.

You can find my own personal Flickchart of The Next Reel subjects here: www.flickchart.com/justinjaeger. The list isn’t yet comprehensive. I only add a film to this list if I’ve seen it and it’s been the subject of a show.

Along this line, I just this past week watched Fury and listened to the podcast about it and I so wish I could have participated. I loved the film. I Flickcharted it in a very similar place to where The Film Board ended up, but I think I liked it a lot more than the other guys did. I wish I could have been chatting with them live while I listened to their show. I tend to get kind of blindly biased when I see a new movie that I like but I think Fury might be my favorite WW2 movie. I felt like it was something really new and definitely unique.

I have weird ideas about the horse symbolism, the controversial breakfast scene, and what the film was about. These concepts are all kind of linked together in my mind.

What Fury was about for me:

Boyd ‘Bible’ Swan: Wait until you see it.
Norman Ellison: See what?
Boyd ‘Bible’ Swan: What a man can do to another man.

Fury examined the necessary evil that people become in the face of war. Fury showed us that to become the human operator of a killing machine, a person needs to dispense with the human and become the machine. Nobody wants to do this, but people do in the face of war. They dutifully perform acts that they find objectively reprehensible out of fear and anger and necessity and then tell themselves in chorus… “best job I ever had.”

In my view, the horses (throughout) represent people’s humanity, our normalcy. In the first set piece, when Brad Pitt knifes the SS and then sets the horse free, he’s sending away his humanity because it has no place in the fight and then he returns to the tank where he continues to focus his team saying things like, “You’re an animal. A dog. All you understand is the fist and boot.” He dehumanizes them, because he knows that’s what they need to do their job and get through the war. He hates doing it, but he knows it must be done. He does this to Norman throughout as well, because he knows it must be done.

When The Film Board chatted at length about the intensely jarring breakfast set piece, they talked a lot about the women and whether Emma was really falling in love with Norman or whether the women were play acting to survive the horrors of war or whether the contrast in the way they were treated by Wardaddy and Norman vs. the other three was appropriate, warranted, and “written right.”

For me, the scene wasn’t about the women. All of the men were violating the women, but that wasn’t why the scene was set. Wardaddy was giving in to that desire for normalcy that anyone would crave in the face of what the soldiers were going through. Norman represented that to him — or at least he was the closest to it — that’s why he was there. When the other three arrive, their feeling is of betrayal. Jealousy of course, but moreso betrayal. Shia LeBeouf is crying and dumbfounded because the “Bible” character is this righteous man that’s been indoctrinated to the vulgarities of war by Brad Pitt who is now hypocritically indulging in comfort after he’s literally beaten these boys into emotion-denying warriors. 

The inference is that these three have all been put through the paces by Wardaddy in the same way that we see him pushing Norman on the battlefield, and now they can’t allow members of their team to deny this gospel of war that has so become their life. So Gordo tells the story of the horses. Tells the story of how their humanity lay screaming — how they all killed off their humanity together. He does this to bring the five of them back into the evil of war… then to punctuate it, writer David Ayer kills off the women with a bomb to show us that humanity is impossible for these guys. All hope is lost. It’s not meant to be war porn. It’s central to the story’s narrative, and specifically the story about this tank crew.

In the last stand at the crossroads, as the crew is being killed off and we get:

Norman Ellison: Sergeant Collier? I think I want to surrender.
Wardaddy: Please don’t. They’ll hurt you real bad. And kill you real bad.

Norman is so new to the war that he still has a connection to humanity, but Wardaddy is so rutted by it, he believes that no good can happen. Norman tries to hide — however poorly — and is shown pity by a German soldier. It is a return to humanity in the throes of war. The next shot we get is the white horse running by the tank to wake an unknowingly safe Norman. Humanity has returned to him and will be set free from the reins of the tank that made him temporarily a war horse.

Fury was about how messed up war is and how much it messes people up. We’ve seen that before. What I haven’t seen before was the poetry that I took from the story (although some people will probably say I’m reading too much into that), the tank combat (which I thought was amazing and shot brilliantly), and the two sides of the warrior-transformation balancing act. Saving Private Ryan got into it a little bit, but the aggro wasn’t as aggro as in Fury and most of the characters in Saving Private Ryan were reluctant warriors, not a measure of both hawk and dove, which is a story I think Fury told well.

I mean it as a compliment when I say that I felt like Fury was Young Guns in World War II. Fury is about concepts more deep and serious, but the protagonists are still righteous reluctant warriors that both kill and die in front of our eyes. Oh, and Coon Ass is totally Dirty Steve.