If you are my age or a bit older you probably have relatives who fought in World War Two. If you are a bit younger you may have relatives who fought in Vietnam. Among those relatives you probably have at least one who was so scarred by the experiences of war that they never talked about it. My family had a co-pilot of a Flying Fortress and a G.I. who landed in the thick of it at Normandy. We also have a decorated door gunner on a helicopter in Vietnam. My wife has an uncle who was a G.I. in Vietnam. His own sister only heard about his experiences once—once—after he got back. And when she did he was drunk because he was trying to forget. Kim’s grandfather served in World War Two and went through France to mop up after D-Day and all he ever told her about it was trying to get the French girls into the “American jeepie.” He ended up marrying a British dancing girl. We call her Grandma.
In my family, I heard only vague, general stories. My uncle the co-pilot spoke of the knowledge that as he flew bombing runs over Germany that he was killing innocent people. My cousin the D-Day G.I. spoke of not taking off his boots for one month after they landed and when he did, his entire foot being one giant callous which came off with his boot. And my cousin the door gunner never spoke of Vietnam, even though he was considered a hero in our county.
Why don’t they speak of it? They went through the horrors of war so that the rest of us wouldn’t have to. When my wife spoke of joining the Marines when she was graduating high school, her Vietnam vet uncle threatened her with bodily harm so she couldn’t enlist. I thank God for that.
I used to like war movies. After seeing Brad Pitt’s new movie, Fury, I doubt I will watch another one.
Fury is a case study in the ethics of art as much as it is the ethics of war. The movie is set in the last days of World War Two in Germany as the Allied forces made their way to Berlin. In the movie we follow the experiences of a tank crew that has survived mostly intact since the African campaign against Rommel.
We can ask the questions as to whether a WWII tank crew would be dropping the F-bomb as frequently as this one does or whether the fighting was this intense in the last days of WWII. I don’t have the time to do the research.
The bigger question that this movie raises in my mind is whether or not art should portray flagrantly immoral men who have been so warped by their experiences as heroes in the end.
Can men who manipulate a German woman into their tank for a candy bar, or another into bed for a few eggs be heroic?
Can men who care more about the death of horses than the deaths of men be heroic?
Can a man who forces a new recruit to shoot a pathetic, surrendering Nazi in the back be heroic?
These are rhetorical questions. The answers are obvious. No, they cannot. Why? Because all of these things–which seem to be a pattern in the lives of the characters in this movie—cannot provide the moral basis for the final scenes of this film where these men suddenly shift out of character and make the ultimate sacrifice. Their decision to do so is unexplainable. Men who do these things are not heroes because their pattern of living was evil.
This movie does not qualify as art no matter how good the special effects or how good some of the performances are. It does not qualify as art because it blurs the line between good and evil. In fact, it does it so much so as to be indistinguishable. This is the present issue in our culture; its inability to tell the difference.
Telling the difference is essential to a Christian worldview. It must help us define what art is. I am not against the depiction of evil in movies; the Bible does that. I am against blurring that line between good and evil. The Bible never does that.
“Woe unto them that call evil good and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” (Isaiah 5:20)
“Ye have wearied the LORD with your words. Yet ye say, ‘Wherein have we wearied Him? When ye say, Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and He delighteth in them; or, where is the God of judgment?” (Malachi 2:17)
John Gardner, the novelist who wrote “Grendel” and “The Sunlight Dialogues” also wrote a book called “On Moral Fiction.” In it he wrote of the moral responsibility of writers to write works that are morally beautiful. It wasn’t accepted by his contemporaries and he was sharply criticized. This doesn’t change the fact that he was right. Gardner wrote in his work that the function of art is morality. Granted, he never clearly points to what that absolute standard of morality is, but as Christians we know what it is. In an effort to be relevant we should not applaud movies like this one. Instead we should call the producers and writers to something better.
This movie also does not qualify as art because the detailed depiction of the horrors of war are not art—they are horrors. Seeing half a face on the floor of a tank or a man burn to death; these are the things your relatives didn’t talk about. These are the things that our technology can allow us to reproduce graphically that should not be reproduced anywhere. You cannot “unsee” these things. Real heroes don’t want you to. Hollywood producers aren’t heroes.
It may be Pitt’s intention to raise moral questions with his film making. And to his credit he includes a seriously believing Christian in the script; Shia LaBeouf’s character, “Bible.” His performance is incredible and is the one ray of light in this two hour and fifteen minute display of total depravity. In the final scenes as he quotes from Isaiah 6 and 1 John 2, I found myself in tears. We see a genuine man scarred by the horrors of war hanging on to his faith for dear life even as he looks death squarely in the face. LaBeouf’s performance is better than anything you’ve seen in Christian film. However, as great and redeeming as his performance is, it is not enough to overcome the lie that this movie is.
Also to Pitt’s credit, the sexual escapades of the tank crew are suggested and are not shown graphically. At that point in the movie, I decided to leave if Pitt would have added pornography to this montage of evil. He did not and that should be encouraging to anyone who tracks how Hollywood is paying attention to Christianity in its movie making.
There is one moment in this movie where the writing descended to the patented evangelical gratuitous tear jerker. Minutes after the newbie gunner has sex and falls in love with a beautiful German girl her apartment building is shelled and of course, her body is conveniently laying towards the top of the rubble, only half covered in said rubble. For a moment I thought I had been raptured out of Fury into God’s Not Dead.
There is a reason why Christians like poorly written movies like God’s Not Dead and A Matter of Faith. It is because the film makers are working to produce something that is good for the glory of God. When we compare films like those to films like this, evangelicals would rather spend money on bad film making and good intentions than morally obtuse movies which provide questions without clearly defined answers.
Speaking of being clear, I don’t recommend this movie to anyone. I do recommend that Brad Pitt has a heart to heart with his mother, and perhaps Shia LaBeouf, about the gospel of Jesus Christ.