The soldiers who died in Afghanistan in August 2005 deserve more than a film like Lone Survivor, which tries to find meaning in their death by transforming them into gladiators.

Why Lone Survivor Fails to Honor the Soldiers It Seeks to Exalt

Rating

D

Location

Wide Release

Dates

Opens Jan 10

What is the point of a movie like Lone Survivor? Peter Berg’s new film is obsessively a tale of bravery, heroism, and sacrifice. It opens with a montage of real life Navy Seal training, documenting the extreme endurance, physical prowess, and ability to withstand immense pressure that is required to become one of the United States’ most highly-trained and capable soldiers. It tells us what we are about to see is based on real events, and then it recreates the failed mission in Afghanistan in 2005 which saw 19 U.S. soldiers die. All of it is recreated not so much in the excruciating realism of battle, but with the voyeuristic flair of a violent video game. It then executes its American characters one-by-one in stylized death sequences which read like ritualistic sacrifices, primal bloodlust underscoring patriotic fervor. It’s obscene, grotesque, manipulative, and pornographic, and it is driven by the same jingoistic misinterpretation of what it means to “support the troops” that is criticized in recent books like David Finkel’s Thank You for Your Service and Andrew Bacevich’s Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers. In Lone Survivor, the horrors of war are fetishized and aestheticized into a kind of gym-body propaganda that will pack seats in suburban movieplexes.

The truth is most of the brave American men who died in the Afghanistan mountains in August 2005 didn’t go down in a blaze of glory, like G.I. Joe cartoons. Most died because of the fog of war, bad communication and decision making that ended up with two defenseless helicopters flying low over a mountain top where Taliban fighters could pick them off with RPGs. Most died needlessly, gratuitously, tragically and depressingly “unheroic” deaths. Certainly they deserved more than that, but they also deserve more than a film like Lone Survivor, which tries to find meaning in their death by transforming them into gladiators, a movie that confuses mourning with pandering for a flabbergasted, reflexive emotional shock.

There is some high tension, as the soldiers threw themselves down cliffs, take bullets, and try to fight their way out of an impossible situation. But much of the film plays like a better-crafted Rambo, with the contemporary penchant for immersive, docu-shaky camera work. Despite this attempt to bring us into the horrible intimacy of the interior of violence, the film creates a dynamic that distances and dehumanizes the other. The Americans are clearly the over-matched victims of this skirmish, but there is still something unsettling about the gratuitous glee the film takes as Taliban are mowed down like faceless, disposable vermin.

One of the best films ever made about war continues to be Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter. What is striking about The Deer Hunter is how few scenes of actual combat there actually are, and even those combat scenes are of only secondary importance to the film’s dramatic core. Instead, what Cimino understood is that you don’t make a movie about war and about soldiers by showing actual combat. Combat is too meaningless and abstract, and cinema too essentially voyeuristic an art form to represent battle in a way that doesn’t register as sport. Instead, the reality of war can only be captured by registering the psychic firefights that rage in the souls of its practitioners.

If “Support the Troops” means anything, than more than a decade after American soldiers entered Baghdad, those troops deserve a film that tries to locate their heroics and bravery within the chaos of war’s ordeal. But when a film that truly takes stock of the full measure of that bravery, sacrifice, and dignity is finally made, it will look nothing like Lone Survivor.

29 comments on “Why Lone Survivor Fails to Honor the Soldiers It Seeks to Exalt

  1. you must not have seen the movie obviously and probably never cared about anyone other than yourself.

  2. What movie were you watching? Sounds like an opinion before even seeing the movie. One of the worst critic reviews I’ve seen. Barely warrants my typing time…

  3. This is by far one of the most offensive and disgusting reviews I’ve read. Not going to waste my time writing anymore as you aren’t worth it. I’m not the one who has to sleep at night knowing I wrote some garbage about an event that is nothing less than heroic and the definition of what it means to be an American.

  4. having hosted a private viewing of the movie Thursday evening I can assure you that the majority of the 476 in attendance were military men and women. if you were to ask any one of them they would tell you two things: they respectfully disagree with your review; they fought and DIED for your right to free speech and freedom. my suggestion to you, as a reporter always should, conduct a greater degree of due diligence prior to putting into print something as ridiculous as this.

    Ron Lusk

  5. What a horrible review! War is never pretty; but this story was made to honor those who died on this mission. I watched the “Lone Survivor” tell why he made this film, how the actors trained to make the film and how those involved portrayed the actual people who died. Maybe you don’t care about anyone than yourself as Mr. Chute mentioned. Shame on you!

  6. It’s funny when gun violence advocates say they won’t say anything… and then go on to say a bunch of stuff. It speaks to the nature of their character quite well.

  7. It’s unfortunate for the Crusaders that their supporters feel they have to lie in order to make them appear heroic.

  8. I am embarrassed as a D Magazine reader of your review of this movie. I was lucky enough to be to attend the premier last week, where thousands of dollars were raised for the Boot Campaign and many Dallas celebrities made appearances. You obviously do not understand the history or point of this movie. In your article you do not mention once that this is a TRUE STORY, of a TEXAS native, one point that I would think a D magazine reader might be interested in. Not only that, you insult our brave men and women. Quote “Lone Survivor, which tries to find meaning in their death by transforming them into gladiators” REALLY? I found the exact opposite and I set in a room with many Military men and women that would rightfully agree, Peter Burg did a wonderful job making sure the accuracy and the battle these men went through was true to the core. Shame on you for calling it “depressingly “unheroic””. You passed up on the opportunity to do an honest review of this movie and you should be embarrassed by this. Shame on you!

  9. I’ll tell you one thing that I think is “heroic” is someone willingly giving his life so that his brothers could live and ALSO, that we all could continue to have the right to express our opinions, such as in the newspaper or D Magazine articles.

  10. Are you really trying to claim that if these men hadn’t died in Afghanistan (in some cases because of poor planning and bad communication), they might not be able to publish D anymore? Would they still be publishing if these men had lived? And I wouldn’t call it “heroic,” but it’s certainly brave to speak a true opinion to power like this, knowing there are a billion brain-dead Palin-esque Patriots out there ready to rip apart anyone who says anything that could even be perceived as negative. ‘Merica!

  11. He really should have been more honest and just said he likes the movie and he’s proud to be in the greatest country in the universe.

  12. What I’m saying is that any U.S. Serviceman or woman who dies for his or her country are absolutely “heroic” unlike what Peter Simek wrote in this obviously unresearched and unqualified article and those actions of sacrifice regardless of your political leaning or affiliation should be considered sacred and undeniable. Because for over 200 years now, as U.S. citizens, we have enjoyed and most especially, the Press, has enjoyed the First Amendment Right to Free Speech of which even YOU are enjoying right now. All of that is due to countless soldiers paying the ultimate price for it. They do so without your acknowledgment or even your gratitude, but they deserve it. We all owe them that courtesy at least.

  13. The correlation probably isn’t as close as you’d think. At least, since we’re on the topic, there are other things that are more directly protected by the military action these people die in. Those things are more business related and the rewards aren’t quite as wide-spread as something like free speech, which hasn’t really been attacked by outside forces. These thoughts are all much less pleasant though, and it’s not as fun when it’s less clear-cut. We do agree on this: they are brave, and that without people willing to make these sacrifices, our way of life would potentially (probably) be threatened, and they deserve to be honored. I haven’t seen the film. The reviewer here apparently has.

  14. Not one to candy coat things for a generation of wussies we seem to have raised in this nation, I will just say this. F U.

  15. Someone needs to fire this dude.

    The lack of support here is sickening. Whether you agree with the war and despite any political beliefs, this is a story about 4 soldiers will to survive and ruthlessness in a terrible situation.

    This article is extremely frustrating, and quite sad.

  16. I wish we could pass a law that would force movie reviewers like this to be fired for not saying more supportive things of the troops. Or even better, anyone who doesn’t support the troops should have to battle them immediately, starting with this reviewer.

  17. irst off, let’s get this straight, if the guy writing this completely off article had had the sense to read the book that the movie is based on, he would have a massive change in his point of view. If you have read Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell, you would see the sense in what I am saying. This guy is obviously off his rocker. The book follows the same exact course as the movie. The first 2 chapters explain why he is writing the book. The next 4 explain his training. Then the next, oh 15 chapters, are brutal, bloody combat combined with the hospitality of some of the tribesmen who grant him lokhay, which basically means that they will protect him until their whole village is killed or otherwise incapable of protecting him (lokhay is a word in their native tongue). The next chapter is a sum up of the casualties and injuries sustained. The rest is a tribute to his teammates who were shot or blown to kingdom come. Axe was shot 4 times (the second one cracked his skull open), and he kept on fighting until the very end, when he was hit by a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) and was blown off the face of a cliff. Murphy was shot 3 times, and kept on fighting. Danny was shot somewhere in the vicinity of 7 times and fought until hit in the heart. As Marcus Luttrell was carrying him to the safety of a log when he had been paralyzed from the waist down, he was still shooting at the Taliban fighters. Then, he was dealt his final blow. Then, Mikey went up to higher ground and was overrun and killed. Then, Marcus and Axe were still at the log, and the RPG hit. Marcus was blown off the cliff and, miraculously, only received a piece of shrapnel in his leg, along with getting his pants blown off (that was a little bit funny), and he lived to tell the tale. He was found by some wandering tribesmen and granted lokhay, then brought to the village to have his wounds treated for and his life protected. He was picked up by a welcoming committee of Green Berets and Rangers. Through it all he retained his love for the smart-ass remark. He very nearly told his instructor in BUD/S that he was sugarcoating everything, then, he told himself “after all, he’d probably break my pelvis, since he couldn’t possibly reach my chin”.

    Over all, this guy has no clue of the full story behind this movie.

    This is Marcus Luttrell receiving his Navy Cross:
    This is the citation from the Military Times’ Hall of Valor:

    “The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Petty Officer Marcus Luttrell, United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism in actions against the enemy while serving in a four-man Special Reconnaissance element with SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team ONE, Naval Special Warfare Task unit, Afghanistan from 27 to 28 June 2005, in the vicinity of Asadabad, Konar Province, Afghanistan. Operating in the middle of an enemy-controlled area, in extremely rugged terrain, his Special Reconnaissance element was tasked with locating a high-level Anti-Coalition Militia leader, in support of a follow-on direct action mission to disrupt enemy activity. On 28 June 2005, the element was spotted by Anti-Coalition Militia sympathizers, who immediately revealed their position to the militia fighters. As a result, the element directly encountered the enemy. Demonstrating exceptional resolve and fully understanding the gravity of the situation and his responsibility to his teammates, the unidentified SEAL fought valiantly against the numerically superior and positionally advantaged enemy force. By his undaunted courage in the face of heavy enemy fire, and absolute devotion to his teammates, Petty Officer Luttrell will long be remembered for the role he played in the Global War on Terrorism. Petty Officer Luttrell’s courageous and selfless heroism reflected great credit upon him and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”
    -http://projects.militarytimes.com/citations-medals-awards/recipient.php?recipientid=3644

  18. irst off, let’s get this straight, if the guy writing this completely off article had had the sense to read the book that the movie is based on, he would have a massive change in his point of view. If you have read Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell, you would see the sense in what I am saying. The book follows the same exact course as the movie. The first 2 chapters explain why he is writing the book. The next 4 explain his training. Then the next, oh 15 chapters, are brutal, bloody combat combined with the hospitality of some of the tribesmen who grant him lokhay, which basically means that they will protect him until their whole village is killed or otherwise incapable of protecting him (lokhay is a word in their native tongue). The next chapter is a sum up of the casualties and injuries sustained. The rest is a tribute to his teammates who were shot or blown to kingdom come. Axe was shot 4 times (the second one cracked his skull open), and he kept on fighting until the very end, when he was hit by a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) and was blown off the face of a cliff. Murphy was shot 3 times, and kept on fighting. Danny was shot somewhere in the vicinity of 7 times and fought until hit in the heart. As Marcus Luttrell was carrying him to the safety of a log when he had been paralyzed from the waist down, he was still shooting at the Taliban fighters. Then, he was dealt his final blow. Then, Mikey went up to higher ground and was overrun and killed. Then, Marcus and Axe were still at the log, and the RPG hit. Marcus was blown off the cliff and, miraculously, only received a piece of shrapnel in his leg, along with getting his pants blown off (that was a little bit funny), and he lived to tell the tale. He was found by some wandering tribesmen and granted lokhay, then brought to the village to have his wounds treated for and his life protected. He was picked up by a welcoming committee of Green Berets and Rangers. Through it all he retained his love for the smart-ass remark. He very nearly told his instructor in BUD/S that he was sugarcoating everything, then, he told himself “after all, he’d probably break my pelvis, since he couldn’t possibly reach my chin”.

    Over all, this guy has no clue of the full story behind this movie.

    This is the citation from the Military Times’ Hall of Valor:

    “The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Petty Officer Marcus Luttrell, United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism in actions against the enemy while serving in a four-man Special Reconnaissance element with SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team ONE, Naval Special Warfare Task unit, Afghanistan from 27 to 28 June 2005, in the vicinity of Asadabad, Konar Province, Afghanistan. Operating in the middle of an enemy-controlled area, in extremely rugged terrain, his Special Reconnaissance element was tasked with locating a high-level Anti-Coalition Militia leader, in support of a follow-on direct action mission to disrupt enemy activity. On 28 June 2005, the element was spotted by Anti-Coalition Militia sympathizers, who immediately revealed their position to the militia fighters. As a result, the element directly encountered the enemy. Demonstrating exceptional resolve and fully understanding the gravity of the situation and his responsibility to his teammates, the unidentified SEAL fought valiantly against the numerically superior and positionally advantaged enemy force. By his undaunted courage in the face of heavy enemy fire, and absolute devotion to his teammates, Petty Officer Luttrell will long be remembered for the role he played in the Global War on Terrorism. Petty Officer Luttrell’s courageous and selfless heroism reflected great credit upon him and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”
    -http://projects.militarytimes.com/citations-medals-awards/recipient.php?recipientid=3644

  19. Even if I take your review at face value about any spare movie, this review is opinionated garbage. I honestly think you could have written this without even watching the movie. If you want to post your personal manifesto about war and our soldiers then don’t call it a review. You have obviously not read the book which is imperative to understanding the movie, and tried to fill in explanations about events in the film with your own opinions.

    The beauty of your post is that we live in a country that has free speech were millions of Americans have “died needlessly, gratuitously, tragically and depressingly “unheroic” deaths,” to protect your right to post such garbage and pass it along as fact. You have a responsibility and a powerful platform, being in the media, to keep your personal opinion about political beliefs out of your reviews. This kind of article can only lead to a forum of hateful comments that will dishonor the men and women who have died for this country and the men in this movie. Congratulations.

  20. You have got to be kidding? Why don’t you leave the heroic war movies to those who like them, and those of us who see these men and women as heroes. You and your liberal kinfolk can have all the weed smoken, sexual openness, anti-police, anti-establishment, anti-corporation, anti-everything that is good and wholesome movies. Don’t tell us what this movie means. We know what it means.

  21. “There is some high tension, as the soldiers through themselves down cliffs, take bullets, and try to fight their way out of an impossible situation.”

    It’s “threw,” buddy.

  22. “There is some high tension, as the soldiers through themselves down cliffs, take bullets, and try to fight their way out of an impossible situation.”

    It’s “threw,” buddy.

  23. Disgusting! You frankly have no idea what you are talking about. Join up and serve and then you can hopefully have the opportunity to be in a combat situation where you are outnumbered 25 to 1. Only after you survive that then you can discuss your thoughts on the situation you encountered. The movie is based on a true story and follows very closely to the book, it is TRUE and if you think it is not then say that to the Men and Women who have faced combat situations and watched brothers perish. They give so much and all they ask for is respect and perhaps appreciation when they return home. I feel your comments were disrespectful to the armed services especially to the men who died in Operation Redwings.

  24. As a SSG in the US Army, if i see you in life for real im going to destroy you. I promise this, i occasionally visit Dallas. Next time im in town im stopping by.

  25. We need to talk young man. I look forward to seeing you in Texas when I get to fort hood