Cult Fiction VI—Values Conflict –A “Just” War?
First Blood, the novel, was written by a Canadian who was able to look at America through a frosted lens. First Blood, the movie, is a successful feature film with a surprising Canadian pedigree. The first of the Rambo series, First Blood was a blockbuster, a hit feature film. The film was shot in Canada. Its lead credits describe it as “A Ted Kotcheff Film”. Kotcheff is a famous Canadian director who worked in early CBC television and directed his friend Mordecai Richler’s The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. Kotcheff’s name is most often seen now on credits for the television crime drama, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Mario Kassar and Andrew G. Vajna, both new to America, were Executive Producers. The screenwriter credits list Michael Kozoll of Hill Street Blues, William Sackheim, and Sylvester Stallone, based on a novel written by David Morrell. The final song that accompanies the credits is sung by Dan Hill: “It’s a long road / when you’re on your own / and it hurts when they tear your dreams apart.”
“It’s a real war right outside your front door. . . . It’s a long road and it’s hard as hell.”
The novel First Blood is much more violent than the movie yet both are talking, in a symbolic and allegorical way, about American attitudes—the lack of respect for personal boundaries and human rights, and the nation’s aggressive decision to ignore national territories and international jurisdictions and to invade another country far from home. “The final confrontation between Rambo and Teasle would show that in this microcosmic version of the Vietnam war and American attitudes about it, escalating force results in disaster. Nobody wins.” [FB, p. x, author’s introduction] Like Teasle, the United States, for the wrong reasons, chose to fight an unknown enemy, in its own territory, an enemy which history says America in some ways created, without fully realizing what he/they are/were getting into. Thus, the novel challenges the opinions and actions of the establishment while creating a wounded American hero who becomes a martyr to the ideologies of freedom and democracy.
But is it literature? Many who mock or criticize First Blood will admit to never having watched it. They “don’t do” action movies; they abhor violence; they would never kill anything, let alone another human being. Yet democracy relies upon the authorized use of coercive force. In First Blood, the novel, Captain Trautman corrects Chief of Police Teasle with: “You tolerate a system that lets others do it [kill] for you.” [FB, p. 209] So, even if we may not wish to see the ultimate human consequences, to have our attitudes towards the use of force challenged, to experience the hell for ourselves, First Blood warrants a second look as a great feature film made in Canada.
With its literary allusions, symbolic atmosphere, allegorical characters, and serious themes, First Blood warrants a second look, even if you choose to watch it with your eyes covered and the sound muted. It’s a Canadian take on a wounded American hero who went to Hell and came back with a story to tell. First Blood, as its title implies, is a story about the rules of engagement, about respecting human rights. It is a story about attitudes toward authority, about boundaries and jurisdictions, about abuse of power, and accepting responsibility, because whoever draws first blood is responsible for starting the war, for the killing. First Blood has given us a hero who has become iconic, an angry wounded man, alone, alive, and fighting for what he believes. And the issues from which he emerged bombard us daily in the news-report images and the sounds of war. ©