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Fries & Ketchup: Rufous City Review, Wadjda, Fury

February 19, 2015

Recent odds and ends:



At the start of the week, the magazine Rufous City Review released their new issue. My poem "Waimea Canyon" was included in it, along with several other poems I enjoyed over the course of a couple snow days that kept me home from school. Visit the site. Download the PDF. It's free, and it's good for you.


Wadjda and her tank.
I'm not sure I've enjoyed a film recently more than I enjoyed Wadjda. I'm about a year late to this bandwagon bicycle, but Haifaa Al Mansour's Oscar nominated film yokes a gender revolution's potential for upheaval in the Middle East to a set of handlebars, metal spokes, and a greased chain. The battlefield is real, but it is not violent. The war is for expression more than say survival. And yet, I cannot imagine a more powerful image of Saudi Arabia's future than Wadjda's pedaling towards the horizon that awaits the end of every day. Daily acts of agency, tucked away in courtyard corners and the walls of her bedroom, mark a girl's struggle for identity. I didn't have it on my syllabus at the start of the school year, but I will be adding it as a companion piece to another revolutionary film: Gillo Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers (1967).

Wardaddy (Brad Pitt) and his bicycle.
Moving from one war film to another, Fury is everything Wadjda isn't, meaning its war against oppression is bloody and bombastic and brutal. The film's opening sequence, with its white stallion gracing the ashen and oily debris of recent battle, is reminiscent of Steven Spielberg's 2011 effort Warhorse. However, while Spielberg's film journeys into modernity and World War I through the epic of a single stallion's odyssey, Fury begins in the midst of World War II's crucible. The men and the land are already scarred inside and out. The War is heavy, brooding, and relentless, and while these men are willing to sacrifice, none of them are Sergeant Yorks in the model of Gary Cooper. They are heroic, but they are not heroes. They are men, and at times, David Ayer's insistence on such is grating.

In some ways the film is too metallic, too full of gears, too wrought in its own stagings of war to breathe. And maybe that's how war is. But the film decides early on that the only life worth saving here is Logan Lerman's Norman Ellison, who is a former typist by virtue of his middle class upbringing. Brad Pitt's Wardaddy sees the fading embers of his civilized self in the youth and the innocence of Ellison, just as the film later reveals how he sees elements of his wavering faith in Shia LaBeouf's Boyd 'Bible' Swan. The names in this film are what they promise to be, proclaiming rather than suggesting allegory. And, in accordance with his name, Wardaddy teaches boys how to be soldiers. His tank in a rather obvious metaphor is a metallic womb. And this will all play out with Ellison's violent rebirth. He will become a soldier, yes, but, more importantly, a living witness to the ultimate sacrifice.

Others will die for him to live, to type, or whatever it is the Ellisons do when not forced into the throes of violence. However, the men not named Ellison have been deemed too mutated for such ends to be possible any longer. For much of this film, forgiveness and redemption are nonexistent. And yet, Fury does not find its closure as easily as it could, and that is a good thing. In fact, this inability to end as it began is perhaps the only redeeming trait in what is otherwise a lesser redux of films like Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, and Inglorious Basterds

Instead of simply having Ellison survive, he survives because a youthful Nazi soldier shows him mercy. Ellison drops through the bottom of the tank and awaits his fate, but the other boy does not shoot. Prior to this scene, none of the German soldiers were depicted as anything other than "Nazi fuckers" worthy of being shot and nothing more. This scene accomplishes what the earlier scenes in the film failed to--despite some efforts to the contrary--which is to demonstrate in a convincing fashion how the gears of war and ideology are bigger than individuals on both sides of the line. Perhaps this failing is a result of the film's reliance on male and female binaries. Or, perhaps it is something else, like the use of green and red streaking the sky like lasers in a Star Wars battle. The end of the film, however, dares to blur these boundaries of good and evil and that lends Fury's ending a nuance beyond: War is war, dammit! Moreover, this act of mercy makes the sacrifice of young men on both sides more evident and therefore the film's last vision of trauma is more than simple, and more haunting than the film's earlier flaws should allow it to be.


Bryan Harvey can be followed @LawnChairBoys.

 *The green and red "lasers" may be indicative of tracers used during the war and therefore may be more historically accurate than not having them in the film. 

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