Rambo is America’s Shadow

~ short review-essay on the film First Blood (1982). ~ https://letterboxd.com/zsoro/film/first-blood/

When in doubt, kill.” ~ First Blood (1982) is, in my humble opinion, a concise, near perfect film. Action-packed and laced with more meaning than you may realize. Well-paced @ 93 min. and well-shot. An intriguing premise, realistically plotted as far as the responses of the parties involved, in America. And in the end, a tragic film because of that fact. 

Rambo is America’s post-war Shadow, all our imperial sins abroad in the 20th century come home to roost, to shock and awe us. Altogether, anti-imperialist, anti-war, a.c.a.b. through lines permeate First Blood. Creates a meta war between two major classes of American cinematic hero: soldiers and cops. All through its run, makes you ask *why* the fight is happening.

Why are they chasing John Rambo?

Shows small-town cops as a gang of tyrants, who see themselves as a hammer and treat every disturbance as a nail, every ounce of noncompliance as an absolute challenge to their authority, a capital offense. They are more than willing to fight and kill over vagrancy. And they have the resources and manpower to hunt their petty quarries to the very end, with violence constantly in hand. The police want blood. And usually, before long, they get it.

Not with Rambo. The stone cold killer – “the action hero” – is no easy mark for their tyranny. The lone special forces veteran, on the other hand, with his war over and full of real horror he cannot forget – just wants peace. But all he knows is combat, all he has are broken dreams. Rambo does not draw first blood; but he is more than willing and capable of giving last.

In a sharp anti-war, anti-police state subtext, there are no *good* guys in First Blood, there’s no good reason for these cycles of violence to be happening. It’s all a waste of time, a waste of life. Egos and bullets are traded in this small fictional town of Hope, Washington for nothing at all.

An action flick but also survival with strains of horror. Its plot reflects how, after Vietnam, our respect as a nation transferred from the military to the police, from soldiers to cops. And so did their power raise. Armed to the teeth, modern police forces wield the law with impunity, often placing themselves above it. In their marks, Rambo is a disdained survivor going from one hell to another, an enemy abroad and at home. He has no friends, no place to belong to. A forgotten and uncared for vet. Followed orders, murdered for his state, watched his friends die, spent years of his prime in a nihilistic and unjust war that we lost. All for what? To get killed over vagrancy by some fat dudes with choppers and machine guns in “Jerkwater, USA”? Awful. His fear and rage are justified. Hunted by the cops, civilian hunters, even national guard, over nothing. Rambo’s abilities are transcendent, but he suffers from psychosis and is fighting another meaningless battle. He is not deranged but afraid, not sadistic but traumatized. Rambo is full of loss. And yet he still wants to win, to live. And he *can.* Because we trained him to. His war is our war. We own it.

What an ending. Moving and realistic performances by Stallone and Crenna. A movie about war and masculinity and death, about America. In the end, makes you feel real sorry for our babbling, broken Shadow…

Ultimately, whether we want to or not, our Shadow is a part of us and must be consciously acknowledged, understood, and taken care of.

{If there’s any movie that didn’t need a franchise, it was this jfc 😂 the existence of cash grab, high octane sequels that send John Rambo back into war undermine this movie’s whole message… Though the eventuality of a cinematic “Rambo (franchise)” proves out another throughline: all modern art will succumb to commercialization.} 

[also, Rambo didn’t kill anybody in the film.]