Warning – plenty of spoilers!
What happens to a principled Christian man when they’re thrust into the horror of war? How does someone committed to grace and mercy cope with the brutal requirements of combat?
Brad Pitt’s latest movie, Fury [IMDB], seeks to draw us into these questions as we travel along with a battle-weary Sherman tank crew in the final months of World War 2. Pitt plays Don “Wardaddy” Collier, the commander of a tank crew riding a Sherman named “Fury“. He is introduced to us as a man who is more than prepared to kill and we do not question for a minute that he has seen plenty of blood. It’s the kind of role that Pitt is well suited for, as though he just changed costumes from Archilles in Troy or Aldo Raine in Inglorious Basterds and simply kept up the body count.
In contrast we also meet gunner Boyd “Bible” Swann, the son of preacher and seminarian himself, seeking to reconcile his beliefs with his faith. Swann, with the rest of the crew, has been fighting alongside Wardaddy since North Africa and he, too, has plenty of blood on his hands. But not on his conscience.
Making up the numbers are the driver, “Gordo”, and the loader “Coon-Ass”. There is one seat waiting to be filled – the assistant driver is dead; recently killed.
At first sight it appears that main character is simply going to be Wardaddy, but that soon changes. Every daddy needs a boy and so we are introduced to the replacement assistant driver, Norman Ellison. Norman is more wet behind the ears than a catfish, having come out of what is essentially an army typing pool. And he’s also a religious man, albeit an episcopalian; a “mainliner”. All the characters around him know who they are, they have already trodden their path and settled into their ruts. But Norman’s future is still open. As he meets the crew, starting with Gordo and Coon-Ass, Bible has some advice for him,
Norman. There two are wicked men. Albeit amusing. You better grab hold of Jesus. He’s the one thing that won’t rattle you loose.
Wise advice from the preacher. And so we think we have a sense of the choices set in front of Norman. On the one hand there is Bible, but on the broad road there are Gordo and Coon-Ass. It seems like an easy decision. But what about Wardaddy? Where does he fit into the spectrum of responses to the war?
It doesn’t take long for us to find out. On their first mission together Norman is told to shoot anybody that might be dangerous but faced with a scared Hitler Youth boy he hesitates and the first tank in the column is destroyed by the same boy. Wardaddy is furious and after the next engagement forces Norman to shoot a surrendered German soldier, despite his vehement protests about the morality of it.
We ain’t here for right and wrong. We’re here to kill these people.
So here is the first lesson from father to son. Scruples have to be set aside. It’s kill or be kill. More importantly it’s kill or your comrades are killed.
So what do the religious Bible and Norman make of all this? Where is mercy in all the Fury? A slightly earlier conversation has actually framed the events for us:
WARDADDY You think Jesus loves Hitler?
BIBLE I would assume so. And if Hitler accepted Jesus in his heart and got baptized, he’d be saved. Won’t save him from man’s justice.
Except it’s not just man’s justice. We begin to see the outlines of how Bible has reconciled himself to what he is doing. Maybe he had this in his mind:
Rom. 13:4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.
Perhaps it should be better translated “agents of Fury“…
Wardaddy turns out not to be as monochromatic as we may have first suspected. In a critical and poingnant scene he and Norman take a meal (and more) with a pair of German cousins after capturing a small town. We see a kinder side to the commander, treating his hostesses with the gentleness that he can muster and standing off the crass drunken outbursts of Coon-Ass. Again, we are reminded of God’s wrath:
COON-ASS The seventh seal’s broken, buddy. You can’t put the shit back in the horse.
Rev. 8:1 When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.
2 And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.
3 Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. 4 The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand. 5 Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.
6 Then the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them.
Perhaps they are all agents of God’s Fury, but it doesn’t mean that they have to like it. Wardaddy certainly doesn’t, or at least he wants some moments where he’s not reminded of it.
Wardaddy pulls his .45 And SLAMS it on the table. Coon-Ass backs down. A painfully tense silence follows. Wardaddy’s fork scrapes against his plate as he shovels eggs and bacon into his mouth.
As the story progresses we begin to see these strands drawn out. Wardaddy tells of the time he served on the chain gang for a barroom brawl that went sour – plenty of time for him to think about things. Norman toughens up quickly, gaining even the respect of Coon-Ass who calls him a “good man”. He is slowly learning that there is a time to kill and a time to tear down. And there must be some tearing down, particularly the SS, who the crew recognise as complicit in the Nazi regime’s attrocities even if many footsoldiers aren’t. In the same town where Wardaddy and Warchild sit down to lunch with the German cousins, Furious justice is executed,
AT THE BANK – The front doors open. A line of dejected kids emerges in eclectic uniforms. BOYS and GIRLS. Their hands held high, faces scared. The Platoon Soldiers surge forward and search them. Among them is an SS OFFICER, his arm in a sling. Wardaddy points him out to the Burgermeister.
WARDADDY (IN GERMAN) Is he the man who has been hanging the children?
The Burgermeister looks nervous – The SS Officer is glaring right at him. Nevertheless, the Burgermeister nods: Yes.
WARDADDY Hey! Shoot that guy! Yeah, him. The SS c*cksucker with the busted wing.
Norman soons leaves the typing far behind him, graduating on the machine gun with flying colours.
COON-ASS Damn son, you’re a fighting, f*cking, drinking machine.
WARDADDY Machine. That’s it. That’s your war name. I christen thee “Machine.”
Wardaddy is now both father and priest for Norman and it’s becoming increasingly hard to tell the difference between the two men.
Wardaddy, as if moving in the opposite direction to Norman (or perhaps, more accurately, towards him), reveals more of himself until we reach the final climactic battle against an entire SS battalion.
Bible provides commentary for what is about to happen.
BIBLE I know you hate me preaching, but what we’re doing is a righteous act. There’s a bible verse I think about sometimes. Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me.”
That resonated. Bible sees it on the faces of the men.
Of all people, it is Wardaddy who identifies the quote:
WARDADDY Book of Isaiah. Chapter Six.
Bible is floored Wardaddy knew that…
But perhaps he and we ought not to be floored. Isaiah 6 speaks of a terrible situation in the life of the nation of Israel. Isaiah is sent to speak a word of judgement/Fury:
Is. 6:11 Then I said, “For how long, Lord?”
And he answered: “Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged, 12 until the LORD has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken. 13And though a tenth remains in the land, it will again be laid waste.”
After holding out against incredible odds, Wardaddy is wounded and collapses back into the tank where Bible tends to him. And we finally see which side Wardaddy belongs to:
WARDADDY If a man loves the world, the love of the Father ain’t in him. For all in the world, lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, the pride of life, is not of the Father. But of the world.
BIBLE The world and its desires pass away. But he who does God’s will lives forever.
Off bible’s quizzical look… WARDADDY I once had a long spell with nothing but the good book and my conscience.
Wardaddy is no trigger-hungry warmonger and his child of war, Norman, is not the seed of raw impulse but rather a son who he has raised to do what is needed, even if it’s incredibly difficult. Like father, like son. As they make their last stand together it’s hard to tell the difference between them. Norman, like his new dad, has had a long spell to wrestle with the good book and his conscience and the conclusion he has reached is that there is a place for Fury. Hitler and the SS can be forgiven, but man’s justice on behalf of God must be exacted.
When the battle is finally over, machine is the only survivor. He is rescued the next morning…
MEDIC You’re a hero. You know that?
Norman doesn’t know what that means. Or really care. It is clear from the churning angst in his eyes he will never, ever be the same.
He’s not a hero. He’s a machine, part of the bigger machine named Fury.
Fury is more than just a great war movie with some utterly compelling battle scenes. It’s an examination of the complex moral questions that surround warfare and an insight into what makes “good” men capable of killing others.
In the middle of justice there is also mercy.Bible is capable of both shooting tank rounds that bring instant death and then climbing out and praying with a dying enemy. Norman who showed mercy at the beginning at the cost of his comrades’ lives receives exactly the same in return right at the end as a young boy of an SS soldier chooses to leave him alone under the tank at the end of the battle.
This confronting melding of Fury and mercy is a salutary reminder to us that the same Jesus who hung on a cross for His enemies (Rom. 5:8) will one day return in righteous Fury to judge those who oppose Him, treading the winepress of the Fury of God’s wrath (Rev. 19:15). Sobering stuff but important to get our heads around. Norman matures. Wardaddy’s child becomes a man and understand the complexities of reality. Mercy is important, but we ought to never lose sight of the fact that one day there will be Fury. And that might be something we need to grow up and come to terms with.