Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Cult Fiction III: Rambo in Hell

Cult Fiction III: Rambo in Hell

As most movie buffs know, First Blood was filmed in Hope, a small British Columbia town on the edge of the Cascade Mountains less than two hours east of Vancouver. Although the novel First Blood is set in Madison, Kentucky, a town on the edge of the mountains, in the movie, the name Hope is retained. Visual details--licence plates, mailboxes, state banks, a gun store, the Stars and Stripes--transform Hope into a believably American town in the Pacific Northwest, somewhere “north” of Portland, Oregon. Many of the businesses visible in the film are still in Hope—the Hope Hotel, the Fields store, the Dairy Queen, the Chevron, the Shell station; Greyhound still stops in town. The drizzle and rainforest locations depict a typically BC winter, and the spectacular Coquihalla Canyon, the site of the cliffhanging helicopter battle, is a provincial park a short three-kilometre hike from downtown, along a Kettle Valley Railroad section of the Trans-Canada Trail. So the actual movie setting is very Canadian, although dressed to pass as America.

The choice of setting for the film serves a literary purpose as well. In the second scene in the movie, just after he has learned that another army buddy is dead from cancer “brought home from Vietnam”, John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) walks into town. He has lost his original bounce; his muscles are slack; his shoulders and wrists are bowed. His jaw is set in anger; his eyes are bloodhound sad. He seems to have lost his voice; it catches, low, deep, and muffled, as if stuck somewhere in his chest.

“Welcome to Hope” the sign says, in an irony that may turn to bitterness. A second sign at the bridge where Sheriff Teasle (Brian Dennehy) confronts Rambo, refusing him admittance, repeats: “Entering Hope.” Both are allusions to another famous sign, one which reads “abandon hope all ye who enter here” [Dante, H. F. Cary translation]. Indeed, the flashing red lights, the extreme darkness in the forest and the mine and the town, the omnipresent fires surrounding Rambo are images which evoke this allusion to hell. Writer David Morrell acknowledges a creative debt to Rimbaud and his A Season in Hell in an interview on Writers Thus, the setting and lighting reflect the protagonist’s psychological state and signal something about what the creator wants to say.

The characterization, the literary allusion, imagery, symbolism, and the suggestion of a legitimate theme help propel First Blood beyond a simple film in the “action” genre into the realms of literature and art. ©

For a comparison of the novel and the film First Blood, see Cult Fiction IV.

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