‘Lone Survivor,’ A True Story of Willpower
So what if it might be a Navy recruitment ad?
(L–R) Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg) and Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) in “Lone Survivor,” the true story of four Navy SEALs on a covert mission to neutralize a high-level Taliban operative in the mountains of Afghanistan. (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)
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U.S. Navy SEALs. Why do they figure so prominently in our national consciousness these days? One word: forbearance.
Their ability to endure pain and suffering is legendary. They’re chosen because their nature is such that they’d literally rather die than quit anything. It’s an adamantine, diamond-like willpower.
SEALs therefore also have more integrity, truthfulness, and accountability than the average man.
And compassion. Yes, you read that right. Since everything in the universe, according to the nature of paradox, contains at the same time itself and its opposite, hard men have soft hearts.
Of course they can be a bunch of ice-cold, lethal, arrogant bar-brawlers as well. But still, there’s that heroic, diamond-hard will.
And that is why, now that we’ve recently discovered where these silent warriors hide, they’ve become our favorite superheroes. We want to put them under a microscope and see if we can figure out how to get a little of that heroism to rub off on ourselves.
Operation Red Wings
“Lone Survivor,” the true story of SEAL Marcus Luttrell (played by Mark Wahlberg), recreates the doomed Operation Red Wings in Afghanistan.
Basically, four SEALs go out on an op to take out a head-lopping Taliban leader, and they get surprised by some goatherds in the Hindu Kush mountain range. Heeding (with much agonized deliberation) the rules of engagement, they decide to let the goatherds go.
Their mission compromised, they try for higher ground to “get comms” and an Apache chopper extraction. But they reach a false peak.
“Axe” Axelson (Ben Foster) says, “This is a bad spot,” and we anticipate a “Butch Cassidy”-type massacre. It’s contained in the film’s title, after all.
The goatherds, meanwhile, flee down the mountain and immediately alert the Taliban. Soon it’s a four-against-a-hundred, SEALs-Taliban firefight, which takes an entire hour of the movie.
During this time, more SEALs pile into helicopters for the rescue, one of which is lit up with the enemy’s rocket-propelled grenade.
The third act is Luttrell’s being taken in by an Afghan villager and safeguarded according to the principle of “Nanawatai” (asylum), the second of the ten tenets that make up the 2,000-year-old Afghan tradition called “Pashtunwali.”
They’re prepared to defend even an enemy guest to the death against their fellow Afghans, the Taliban. But the Taliban, initially shooed away (with AK-47s) from attempting to behead Luttrell, are coming back for more.
Not as exclusively as, but similar to, the all-active-duty-SEAL cast of “Act of Valor,” “Lone Survivor” uses real SEAL instructors and sneaks Marcus Luttrell himself in there, and gives him a line.
Mark Wahlberg did a SEAL-like training to prepare. “Lone Survivor” is as authentic as it gets, and this is probably as embedded in a special operations firefight as any of us civilians will ever get.
Peter Berg does a tremendous job of creating a “you are there” feeling, with ricocheting, sound-barrier-breaking rounds, rock-splintering RPG explosions, and SEAL-assisted scripting of real firefight lingo: “Left is not good! Right is good! Okay, right is not good!”
The most mind-boggling is the all-or-nothing retreat technique of flinging oneself willy-nilly off 40-foot cliffs, and body slamming and cart wheeling downhill to escape enemy fire. Teeth shatter, bones break. SEAL response? “That sucked.” Tough guys. You have no idea.
Navy Recruitment Ad?
It’s easy to conspiracy-theorize that director Peter Berg and Universal Pictures are in cahoots with the U.S. Navy. Regardless of the fact that this is a true story (and that the impetus for bringing it to the big screen probably came from Marcus Luttrell alone), this sure looks like a big ol’ Navy recruitment ad.
Peter Berg and Universal also made “Battleship” not long ago, the star of which (Taylor Kitsch) is also in “Lone Survivor.” “Battleship” was an unabashed Big Navy chest-beating horn-tooter.
“Act of Valor” could easily be viewed as glowing Navy propaganda, but “Lone Survivor” equally so. Put the recent “Captain Phillips” in with this crowd too, since it features SEALs prominently.
While it might be an opportunistic “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” union of art and the military, definitely count on Hollywood to mine all these new book-writing SEAL authors for storytelling gold until the vein runs out. As mentioned, we can’t get enough of SEALs. It’s supply and demand.
Are Navy recruitment ad-movies a bad thing? They’ve certainly all been entertaining, even the cartoonish “Battleship.” It’d just be interesting to know how much Navy funding was involved, if at all.
“Battleship” bombed at the box office, so if the Navy were behind all this, maybe it would have chosen a different studio and director.
The ironic thing with “Lone Survivor” is that it illustrates the futile aspects of war. Out of 20 of our top dogs—one survives. Humans kill and kill and kill each other. No end in sight.
So what would it take to stop war? Religion alone obviously can’t get it done. Paradoxically, it would take warrior qualities, as applied to religion.
That is, the SEAL-like quality of never-quit willpower. As applied to, say, turning the other cheek. Compassion backed by mental toughness. Outer warrior becoming inner warrior. Warrior-soldiers becoming warrior-monks. Swords to plowshares.
But until such time, forbearance and immense tolerance of pain and suffering, as demonstrated by SEAL warriors, can be something to learn from.
Director: Peter Berg
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, Eric Bana, Ali Suliman, Alexander Ludwig, Yousuf Azami, Sammy Sheik
Running Time: 2 hours, 1 minute
Release date: Dec. 25
4 stars out of 5