War seems to an inexhaustible resource of stories. Maybe that’s because war is conflict at its most basic and biggest level, and stories are typically built around conflict of some kind, be that conflict psychological, interpersonal, geopolitical, or interstellar. Stories are matters of A versus B, and in war stories, A and B are explicit forces.
This is especially true in stories about World War II, a war (the last war perhaps) in which almost all people agree on the heroes and the villains. “Nazi” has since become shorthand for “evil,” and, as Gareth Higgins wrote in his recent article, killing Hitler and his Nazis is an unquestionable “good.” As Gareth also beautifully elucidates, we can criticize the killing without questioning the relative evil of Hitler and his faithful’s actions. Few films do this critical work. (I’m a big fan of the one WWII film Gareth mentions that does.)
Fury doesn’t exactly criticize the killing, but it doesn’t exactly celebrate it either. Fury complicates it, or at least it tries to do so. It does this by depicting killing as horrible and by showing the psychological damage the killing does to the killer. Fury also shows the enemy acting mercifully at a key moment. Then, almost as if the film forgets it has done this, it depicts the need-to-be-killed as monsters and revels in their death. The film is inconsistent. As Kevin wrote, overall the film is “grey,” but it is only grey because the black and white moments blur by so quickly, and it begins to be difficult to tell them apart.
What a blur it is though. Fury is terrifically intense. Imagine an Empire Strikes Back deleted sequence that shows what it was like for the Storm Troopers in the AT-ATs when they invaded Hoth, and you’ll have an idea of what Fury is like. The guns and explosions look so much like something from Star Wars, you could imagine this movie is meant to be David Ayer’s demo reel for a Disney Star Wars spin-off. It’s a movie about interiors and slow movements, because the inside of a tank is a tight space for five men to sit, and tanks can’t move quickly. They’re built for taking and dolling out lickings not for quick strikes and speedy escapes. Put a few volatile personalities inside together, as Fury does, and the beleaguered Sherman becomes a kind of rolling tea kettle building steadily to a boil.
To what effect though? Is Fury more than inconsistencies and explosions? I think Kevin is correct in asserting that there are alternatives to war, that “Wardaddy’s” (Brad Pitt) conviction that “ideals are peaceful; history is violent” should be taken more descriptively than prescriptively. Indeed, war has been normal throughout human history, and we humans have a long history of looking for ways to justify it.
Academically, Just War Theory describes the criteria upon which one (person, organization, or nation) is to judge whether or not war is most desirable in a given situation and how war should be practiced if deemed most desirable. Just War Theory is meant to buffer humans from their apparent proclivity for killing each other. Ultimately, I don’t buy it, as it seems to be used today as a justification mechanism and not as a contraception.
Also, I believe we have seen successful alternative methods displayed on enormous scales in the past century that overcame violent systems of injustice. Humanity also has the ability to destroy itself and every other living thing on the planet, and to avoid this, we need to divorce ourselves entirely from the option of violent conflict. People much smarter than me disagree with me on this. (The way that author distinguishes between two kinds of Just War Theory in contemporary American Christianity in that book is brilliant, in my opinion, I just find the example of people like this much more compelling than any intellectual argument.)
Ultimately, Fury acts as a narrative elucidation of Just War Theory on both a national and personal scale, particularly in the person of Boyd “Bible” Swan, the tank’s pilot and resident Christian. He’s “all in” on the need for this war and on his role in it. I disagree with the way he reads the Biblical passages he finds most relevant to his work, as I believe Jesus’ incarnation, Jesus’ command to love our enemies, Jesus’ example of dying for them, and Paul’s explanation of Jesus’ example being the foundation for the Christian faith override Old Testament-based dichotomies and hostilities between Heaven and Earth. As before, people much smarter than me disagree with me, so if you do too, I understand, and I think you’ll appreciate what you see in Fury quite a bit.
You might also find these reviews of Fury helpful: