- "I Got no Problem Killing My Kin":Fury (2014) and The Evolution of The World War II Combat Film
The setting is April 1945, less than a month before the collapse of the Third Reich, but the Sherman tank nicknamed "Fury" has miles to go. Concerned that his replacement assistant tank driver lacks the brutal resolve to kill the enemy, Staff Sergeant Don "Wardaddy" Collier (Brad Pitt) drags Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) to the site of a mass suicide of Nazi officials and their wives. The room is adorned with Nazi paraphernalia, and a regal portrait of the Führer looms over elegantly dressed corpses surrounded by champagne bottles. "Why did you bring me here?" asks Norman. "Ideals are peaceful," Wardaddy responds solemnly, "History is violent."1 This disturbing contrast at the heart of Fury (2014) might sound like regressive warmongering, especially suited for "The Good War," but Fury portrays a fragile and threatening masculinity that is perhaps unique to a film about the Second World War. Its protagonists simultaneously demonstrate the intimacy of men in combat and the corrosion of their humanity in the face of war's horror. In writer-director David Ayer's view, films about WWII nearly always fall into the rut of depicting an external fight between good and evil. Even Saving Private Ryan (1998) and the HBO series Band of Brothers (2001), which famously strive for verisimilitude in their battle scenes and for a fraught nobility in their protagonists, ultimately retreat from the shocking moral ugliness that war breeds in otherwise good men. On the ground, in the heat and blood of battle after battle, WWII was still, according to Ayer, just "two drunks at a bar just slugging it out."2 At the level of the man, the level of the individual mind and body, the war was not "good" or "evil"; it was "fury."
After three continuous years of experiencing and inflicting dreadful slaughter on two continents, Wardaddy and his tight-knit crew bear this secret, which can never be communicated without subjecting others to the same nihilistic violence they embrace. Fury is calculated to reveal that painful secret.
The film opens with a low-angle shot of a regal SS officer riding a white horse at the crest of a hill, the sunlight luminously behind him. The carnage of a pitched tank battle below him is still dark. As he slowly advances, surveying the blighted landscape, the fog and smoke waft over the wreckage. All is languor and contemplation. The officer pauses by a battered Sherman tank, whereupon a shadowy soldier springs from it, knocks the officer to the ground, and stabs him in the chest and skull. The officer's screams turn to gurgling. The assailant is Sergeant Collier. Then, with equal calm, Wardaddy unsaddles the horse and watches it disappear into the mist. The contrast between the pristine SS knight on horseback and the savage soldier lurking in the hulk of a weathered tank immediately inverts the iconography of a good war.3 Although victory is inevitable, the crew of Fury are battered, scarred, and running on fumes. The tank's interior is stained in blood. Norman finds, in the words of the script, "blonde hair, an ear, and a single blue eye"—half of an apparently Nordic face, blasted from the body—lying on a shelf. The other men—Boyd "Bible" Swan (Shia LaBeauf), Grady "Coon-Ass" Travis (Jon Bernthal), and Trini "Gordo" Garcia (Michael Peña)—are as grimy and battle-fatigued as is their commander. Fury's assistant driver, "Red," who was with the crew since North Africa, was killed by this battle. They are angry and empty. The point, of course, is to set the stage [End Page 4] is set for an innocent, Private Norman Ellison, who is trained in typing (at a clip of 60 words/minute), to enter and serve as surrogate for a cinematic audience untrained to see this supremely recognizable war in such confounding moral terms, where violence becomes unrelenting and unintelligible.4
Fury's plot deliberately avoids a "great event" such as the Normandy invasion, Dunkirk, or an epic battle culminating in glorious victory or...