i just can’t seem to escape rambo. i found a copy of the novel rambo first blood part 2 (the book based on the screenplay) at a local used-bookstore and am currently working my way through it. then today, i watched rambo3 for the first time ever. i plan to review the book and how it complicates the movie in a future post, but right now i want to sketch out some ideas from the third installment of the rambo movie franchise.
the recent escalation of the us military (and it’s “humanitarian” branches — aid workers, election monitors, economic advisers, civil(ian) contractors, etc) in afghanistan complicates any present viewing of rambo3. while rambo3 was originally intended as a kind of propaganda against soviet expansion, watching it during the current war on terror reverses all identifications.
this is a holy war
rambo first blood part 2 ends with trautmann, rambo’s (only) superior officer, asking rambo how he will survive. “day by day” is rambo’s response. rambo 3 then begins with this day by day lifestyle: rambo lives and works at a buddhist monastery in thailand occasionally wandering into bangkok to win some extra money in street fighting tournaments (rambo always just gives the money to the monastery to help pay for the reconstruction of their temple). most importantly, rambo is finally at peace. this peace is broken when trautmann shows up to recruit rambo in support of the mujahideen’s fight against the invading soviet army in afghanistan. rambo refuses and trautmann is captured by the soviets, pulling rambo into a search and rescue mission.
again, like in rambo first blood part 2, rambo only enters the battle as a covert private contractor. the entire reason trautmann (and by extension, rambo) is in the country is to secure the transport of top-of-the-line stinger missiles (and other weapons) to the mujahideen (“good fighters”) in support of their fight against the soviets. besides rambo and the mujahideen, there are a number of soviet defectors who have now joined the opposition forces.
over and over, they — trautmann, the afghans helping rambo (who tells story after story of afghans throwing out invading forces) — repeat the point that no one has ever conquered afghanistan and that the soviets are bound to fail like everyone else before because they underestimate their enemy. when trautmann is first interrogated he warns the soviets that “every day your war machines lose grounds to a bunch of poorly armed, poorly equipped freedom fighters . . . we already had our vietnam, now you’re going to have yours.” earlier trautmann used an interesting analogy when he tried to convince rambo to fight. there was this guy who found the perfect rock, took it home and began chipping away at it. after a few months working on the rock, he show it to his friends. “that’s an amazing statute you created out of that rock,” the friends say. the sculptor replies, “the statue was already in the rock, i just scraped away some extra pieces.” rambo, trautmann argues, wasn’t turned into a war machine by trautmann or the us military, rambo already-always was a war machine, trautmann just cleared away some extra debris to reveal the true war machine that is rambo.
trautmann identifies two kinds of war machines in a ten minute period in the movie: the personified human war machines (rambo and his exploding arrows, trautmann and the mujahideen and their horses — a kind of limited or anti-technological war machine — “the mind is the most powerful weapon”) and the abstract war machines that are the soviet military (the tanks, helicopters, bombs and missile launchers which destroy from a distance).
we’re already dead
in first blood, rambo is pitted against the us domestic police force. in first blood part 2, while fighting north vietnamese and soviets, rambo’s true enemy is the cia. but in rambo3, the us and it’s military completely disappears. there are no american flags, nothing about fighting or sacrificing for your country, nothing about wanting the country to love you the way you love them.
the movie ends with the mujahedeen making an offer to rambo:
mujahedeen: are you sure you don’t want to stay? you fight good.
rambo: maybe next time.
the next time turns out to be now. since rambo3 already established the heroics in defecting from an imperial war machine to working with freedom fighters defending their land, i wonder what side rambo is fighting on now.