My mission this week was to choose and talk about something that represented well war and its consequences – and I can speak with certainty that First Blood, with Rambo, will always be the first movie on my mind about this theme.
You want good action? This movie has it. You want a good content? This movie also has it. You want to feel a tug in your heart while a war hero from the army screams his feelings of revolt and not fitting into normal society?
This movie has it without pity on your soul.
Our readers already know that I, Artemis, don’t cry easy – especially with stories in means of media. If something provokes me tears, you can be sure it’s very emotional.
You didn’t expect that from First Blood?
Yeah, me too.
Get on this train with me to the small town of Hope, on the USA, where we’ll meet John Rambo and understand a little more on the horrors the war does to its soldiers – not only to the victims.
The Vietnam War And The Green Berets
As always, I think it’s nice if we situate ourselves in the historical moment to better understand the movie! Released in 1982, the war was still fresh on people’s memories, dispensing refreshers of historical moments.
Back then in 1946 to 1954, we had the Indochina War. During this period, France controlled the territory of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Being mostly comunists, Vietnamese people faced the French – and won the war, reclaiming their country.
In 1954, then, Vietnam had its independence – but, because of ideological differences, the country was divided between North and South. North Vietnam was comunist and supported by the Soviet Union, while South Vietnam was capitalist and supported by the United States.
Are you having Cold War feelings already? Well, that influenced the Vietnam War.
In 1955, they’d have elections to reunite the country, but South Vietnam refused to participate. Therefore, North Vietnam attacked and, in 1959, the war started, lasting until 1975.
Ok. What about the USA among all that?
Remember I told you about the Cold War? Well, the United States feared the advance of comunism, specially after China declared itself comunist. At first, North Americans helped South Vietnam with guns and military training – but, after an alleged North Vietnam attack to an USA vessel, the country officially entered the war in 1965.
The conflict got well known by its inhumane scenes, such as tortures and mistreatment of civilians by soldiers, apart from the use of chemical weapons (such as napalm, orange agent and etc.) that damaged the country’s soil to this day. Around 58 thousand North American soldiers died on this war.
That made the people from USA to protest against it, forcing the government to leave the war. In a treaty signed in 1973, the United States left the country – being that Saigon, then South Vietnam capital, was conquered in 1975 and, in 1976, there was the country’s unification under a comunist government.
(Source: Brasil Escola)
And who the hell are the green berets?
United States Army Special Forces, they are known as the green berets precisely because they wear green berets on their uniform. Founded in 1952, their main tasks are: unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, direct action, counter-insurgency, special reconnaissance, counter-terrorism, information operations, counterproliferation of WMD and security force assistance.
As expected, after the quick description above, the green berets also acted during the Vietnam War.
First Blood: The Story of Rambo
In 1982, First Blood was released, directed by Ted Kotcheff and starred, in addition to being co-written, by Sylvester Stallone – becoming one of the greatest action franchises of modern cinema. It’s interesting to note, also, that the movie is based on a book, with the title First Blood, by David Morell, released in 1972.
The story follows John Rambo, a Vietnam War veteran. Prior member of the green berets, Rambo was also a war prisioner, being awarded the Medal of Honor for his service. 10 years later, he is in search of one of his unit’s members, but learns by his friend’s mother, right at the start of the movie, that he died because of exposition to chemical warfare during the war.
Clearly saddened by the news, Rambo goes to the small town of Hope, in Washington, searching for something to eat and a place to sleep. However, because of his looks and for judging him a “drifter”, the town’s sheriff – Will Teasle – kicks him out of the town, driving him away from it.
Yet, Rambo returns and Teasle uses this as an excuse to arrest him. Without any kind of reaction or taunting from Rambo, the police officers start a series of abuses – noting he is covered in scars, but, even so, beating him up and showering him with a fireman’s hose. That’s when Rambo has a flashback of the tortures he suffered as a war prisioner in Vietnam, resulting in an outbrak that makes him fight back and flee the police station.
And that’s how the hunt that goes throughout the whole movie starts, escalating more and more in violence and seriousness of the situation, but because of the police actions – while Rambo only tried to defend himself the way he knew how.
It all spins out of control and Colonel Trautman, responsible for Rambo’s treatment, is called to talk with the green beret and make him turn himself in to the authorities. Rambo, however, holds on to the phrase that “they drew first blood – meaning they attacked first, giving him the justified action of self defense.
The movie is filled with incredible action scenes that, of course, only get better with Stallone’s participation (yes, I’m a Stallone fan and the way he suddenly catches you by surprise with an emotion packed acting). Nevertheless, what makes this movie exceptional to me and a necessary addition to my favourite list, was literally the last scene.
Rambo is, in general, silent and controlled, taciturn; indeed with the look of someone who already seen everything on this world. But, when the Colonel confronts him, Rambo gets to his peak and explodes in a roller coaster of emotions that start in anger and ends with a valley of tears.
I am of the fierce opinion that no one could deliver this text the way Stallone did. It’s visceral, filled with a fury made of fire and then wrapped in painful memories that make a man of his size and with all that knowledge in combat cry like a child, only looking for someone to hug.
Consequences of War and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
(I already warn you that his part of the post has spoilers of the end of the movie – that, in case you haven’t watched it yet, I suggest you do before reading. I also warn that I’m going to talk about PTSD during war, which might be triggering for some people)
Rambo’s speech at the end of the movie is well known as one of the most emblematic scenes on the plot. It makes it clear he didn’t choose to fight the war, he was called by other people. He fought by the side of those he considered friends.
And, when he returned, society didn’t accept him anymore.
Rambo got from a war hero to society scum – seen as a villain by activist for having fought a war that wasn’t even his, he points out the irony of being responsible for millionare equipment while a soldier and couldn’t even find a job, even parking cars, when he returned to his country.
With an unprepared society to receive back their war veterans, how did they expect a traumatized man with the constant stress to which he was subjected to for so long to fit in a normal life again?
But the biggest impact is when Rambo starts speaking about one of his friends from the unit he belonged to. Because of a bomb hidden in a shoebox, Rambo’s friend explodes into the air, but remains alive for a while.
That’s when he starts crying and saying how he remembered having pieces of another person across his own body. Remaining by his friend’s side, he remembered how he said he only wanted to go home. And that makes Rambo wake up sometimes without knowing where he is, spending days or even weeks without talking to people, unable to erase those terrible memories from his own mind.
I’m going to leave this scene below so you can remember this moment that, to me, it was so impactating. Also remembering: if you haven’t watched First Blood yet, I suggest you don’t watch the video to feel the impact of seeing this scene for the first time with all the context the building of the plot brings us in the movie!
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is known for being a mental illness that afflicts many war veterans – as well as common people who went through moments that triggered this condition.
It’s characterized as an anxiety disorder, causing intense reactions, developed after living extremely traumatic events. Those events can be, for instance, deaths, sexual assaults, grave violence, threats, war situations, accidents, serious illnesses diagnosis, among many other examples.
Also, it’s important to say that those who didn’t suffer directly from the violence, may suffer from the disorder. As, for example, a mother who gets to know the abuse her daughter suffered.
Of course it’s normal feeling the impact of any of those situations. However, when such feelings linger for months or years, it might be a case of PTSD – the most frequent symptoms being:
- Recurring memories: when the person keeps reliving the trauma, through memories, nightmares or flashbacks, as it happens with Rambo during the movie;
- Anxiety attacks: flashbacks might trigger physical reactions, such as sweating, trembling, short breathing, vertigo and nausea;
- Avoidant behavior: basically, the act of avoiding everything which reminds the person of what caused the disorder, such as people, situations, places or even not remembering/talking about what happened;
- Negative emotional effects: such as developing depression, trust issues, feeling guild and/or shame, etc.;
- Alert state: being in a constant alert state, having trouble sleeping and/or concentrating, getting easily startled and having difficulty controlling emotions as, for instance, anger outbursts.
On those cases, it’s extremely important that the affected person seeks therapy to begin treatment. In Rambo’s case and in many war veteran’s cases – specially around older times like the 70’s and the 80’s, in which mental illnesses were even more taboo than nowadays – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder went without treatment, generating mental and emotional weariness, in addition to making the person retrieve more and more from society.
If you identify in yourself this kind of disorder and experienced some situation that triggered such symptoms for a long time period, seek help. Remember: you don’t have to go through all that alone. There are people who will accept you and will help you climb the mountain to wellness. You are not alone and that matters. You matter.
Now, if you know someone diagnosed with PTSD, offer help. Sometimes, only having someone to vent out and cry – like Rambo did with the Colonel at the end of the movie – is enough. Remember the person is going through a time of a lot of pain and needs understanding and something to lean on. Try to understand, try to learn and help the person climb that mountain. Offer a friendly hand when they need most.
Like Rambo says, you watch my back, I watch yours.
That we may build a world in which people who need support are supported – and in which a soldier who came back from war never need to run away and cry while watching a firework show because of memories of bombs and machine guns.