Theology, Ethics & "Rambo"

(No spoilers) I grew up watching Rocky and Rambo movies. However, when I went to see the latest Rambo flick, I was shocked. Not only was this different than the Rambos I had previously seen, it was nothing like it (the Rambo website was spot-on when it said, "This Rambo makes all the others seem enchanted.")! Well, the plot and premise of the film were similar but no Rambo flick, or any other movie I have ever seen, were or are as graphic and violent as this one. The movie starts off a little slow but picks up really fast and from there, it never slows down. Once Rambo starts killing, well, that's all that happens.

The violence in this film is unmatchable. The close-ups of beheadings, murders, stabbings, gunshots, bomb blasts, lynchings, etc. are straight gory. After the show I told my buddy who went along with me, "It's pretty bad when Rambo can wipe out half of the theather too." It's true, many people who were in the theater cleared out halfway through the movie becuase it was too sickening and violent. While it all happens in the world today and it is quite realistic, that doesn't mean people enjoy watching it. I was suprised that I made it through the whole thing. This movie is certainly not for the faint of heart. It's like Stallone--who wrote and produced the film--got as gruesome as he possibly could. He gave new meaning to the phrase "go out with a bang".

Without spoiling the movie (actually, the plot and premise are very simple), I want to explore a number of issues this film raised for me:

1. The movie takes place in-between modern-day Thailand and Burma (precisely near where they border). Rambo lives in Thailand and some Christian missionaries ask him to drop them off near a local village where they can take medicines in Burma. Eventually, Rambo does. However, the missionaries are captured and placed under the tyrrany of a Burmanese army; Rambo must go rescue them. In the process, he kills hundreds of Burmese soldiers. Given that the movie starts out with clips of Burmese monks protesting, which happened just months ago, I couldn't help but think that if anyone in Burma saw this film, they would hate America. The movie does nothing but show Rambo wiping out a bunch of Burmese people. I wonder if this wasn't the wrong time to put this film out? I also wonder why it didn't catch any political heat? Is it okay, even if only in a movie, to show Americans wiping out other nations?

2. Was it ethical for the Christians to go in, knowing that if they got in trouble American troops would have to try to recover them, all the while risking life and limb? Should Christians abstain from these types of things and wait them out or should they warn the U.S. Army (or whoever), not to try to save them? I think this is a serious ethical issue for missionaries today.

3. This movie made me realize that God hates war, murder and killing. It also made me realize that I will not vote for someone like John McCain who during his campaign sang to the tune of "Barbara Anne", the lyrics, "Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran, bomb Ira-a-a-an" and said, "Let's stay in Iraq for fifty, heck a hundred years." War should be avoided at all costs. This movie really brought out the pacifist in me. But it also raised another issue that troubles me: Is it more loving to let people be raped, tortured and killed or is it more loving to use force, kill the tyrants and free the victims? I'm not sure.

4. Another issue that came up was "whose life is most valuable?". I mean, is the Burmese soldier's life worth less than the American's or visa versa? In a war, that is the choice that is made. But who are we to decide who is more valuable or not? Aren't we all of equal worth in God's eyes? Is the Christian more valuable than the Burmese soldier? Is the Thai migrant more valuable than the missionary?

5. Is it okay to portray the film with the amount and substance of gore that Stallone did? Is it unethical to show these types of things in films?

6. The film almost pictures Rambo in the role of a very violent savior, especially the end when he returns to his roots (don't want to say any more on that, it would be a spoiler). Is this okay? Does it further the mentality that war and weapons, soldiers and warriors are our saviors? I think it could!

7. With the title "Rambo To Hell and Back" and a setting in Thailand/Burma, viewers automatically associate Asia with Hell. This does not seem okay to me. Neither do I think it would have been right to place it in America or anywhere else. If anything, a "fake" location would have been best. In an era where war and terrorism, fighting and national battles are prevalent, a fictive setting would have been the most appropriate. What do you think?

I could say more about the film but I'll stop there. I must say again that this film shocked me. I would probably not recommend it to anyone. It is not a wholesome film and it has the potential to make people, even Christians, place trust in guns and bombs instead of Jesus Christ. There is even a line where one soldier says, "God didn't come to save you, we did." In my eyes, I could never picture Jesus advocating war or running around throwing grenades and shooting people. There is a reason this film is called "To Hell and Back" and that's what we get when we go into and stay in wars--hell! Perhaps the only two good things about this movie were that it raised a lot of ethical/theological questions for me and that it gave me more resolve on the end of pacifism. After all, Jesus did not say, "Blessed are those who kill" but instead, "Blessed are the peacemakers".


  1. are you sure it Thailand? Thailand's former name was Siam, not Burma. Modern Burma is Myanmar.

  2. Mike, thanks for pointing out my confusion. You're right that Burma & Thailand are not the same; they only border one another. This is actually why Rambo must pass the border by boat in the middle of the night. Currently there are millions of Burmese people migrating into Thailand. So, I guess it wasn't Thai soldiers but Burmese ones that were being killed by Rambo. Sometimes I can be geographically inept. Good thing others are more keen on location than I often am!

  3. I, too, saw the film recently and loved it. I have since recommended everyone to go see it. The Rambo in this movie is so much truer to the Rambo created in the initial novel by David Morrell.
    Mr. Morrell has a good article on his website about the movie - http://www.davidmorrell.net/whatsnew/dsp.whatsnew.cfm I also enjoyed the ending; maybe the missinaries didnt make a difference in Burma but they did seem to make a difference in the life of the main character as apparent of his returning home. But to address some of your quotes:

    1. I dont think anyone would/should hate America because of the movie. He isnt just wiping out Burmese people but cruel, unethical, senseless tyranical soldiers. They were not innocent civilians going to the local Wal Mart who just happened to be in the cross fire.

    2. Missionaries should go wherever they feel led. In places that are "hot" the people are so receptive to a message of hope. But...military reinforcement isnt a bad idea either.

    3. It is more loving to free the victims. It was once said, "The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." We cannot be pacifist and allow things like this to happen. If we were unloving and didnt care we would do nothing and therefore be no different than the evil person.

    4. The question in the movie is whose life is more valuable, the Christian missionary or the aforementioned soldier. Obviously, the right decision was made in the movie. I especially liked the confrontation with the pirate boat during the trip in.

    5. I thought the film was great and true to how things really are. Someone stepping on mine isnt a pretty sight so I thought Stallone did an excellent job; and the Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifle was "dead" on. It isnt unethical, it's the truth.

    6. I dont think the end portrayed that at all. I think if anything it portrayed a change in the character perhaps brought on by the missionaries. We see alot behind the character in this film and realize Rambo hates himself because of what he is. Having been in the military I love our soldiers and give them the utmost respect. They do serve as savior at times - not savior in the context of Christ but savior by other means.

    7. I dont think so - I, for one, did not associate hell with Asia however someone who was in Vietnam, Korea, Japan, etc. might because to them it was hell. Again, with the true life events in Burma I thought Stallone did excellent.

    Ok, enough for now. I loved the movie, give Stallone and Rambo five stars. Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers." It was peaceful by the river at the end of the movie after Rambo finished, I guess he heeded Jesus' words.

  4. Jason,

    If I might say so myself, your comments are quite disturbing at points as military acts as your salvation, not the peaceful Christ. Not to say that you aren't a Christian, I know you are, but what you dub "reality" is in fact, not the way "reality" has to be. As long as people keep substituting weapons with THE WAY, nothing will change and the "reality" you all make, will always be hell. Sorry, I'm not for that.

    Your statement that we cannot be pacificsts is wrong. You misunderstand pacifism. Pacifism doesn't mean not standing up for what's right. In fact, it is standing up for what's right in a non-violent way. It is the Christian way. It is the Jesus way. It is the way that says my life is never more valuable than anyone elses; I don't think of myself more highly than I ought. It is the way that says, I will lay down my life and not take the life of the tyrannical Burmese soldier--I know Christ; I can die. He does not know Christ and he needs to live so he can. I think your values are mixed up. Again, misunderstanding pacifism and the way of Jesus as a peacemaker only clouds that even more. No, the right decision wasn't made in the movie. The missionaries were ignorant, so were the American soliders (including Rambo) and so were the Burmese tyrants. But of all of them, the missionaries were the last people who needed to be saved.

    The reason you didn't associate Asia with hell is because you're not Asian and because you're not trying to see it from their perspective. If this was Rambo comign into any place in America doing this, you'd have been highly ticked off and offended, I know you would have. Five stars for a movie filled to the brim or overflowing with violence and hate? Not so much.

    By the way, I didn't know you were in the military! Also, you're feeling better, I take it? See ya.

  5. Michael--thanks for the link.
    You're right that Jason's comments are quite problematic from a Christian perspective.

    Both in the just war and pacifist traditions, Christians have believed that in some situations, innocents will have to suffer for our convictions. In pacifism, this happens when (at least according to the wisdom of the world) only violence can prevent more violence. In just war, this happens when only unjust violence (e.g. an A-bomb which will kill innocent civilians) is the only way to prevent more violence.

    Christians throughout the centuries have affirmed the fact that God reigns and we do not. And that therefore we are called to be faithful before we are called to be 'effective' (in reducing violence, solving this or that world problem, etc.). I have trouble believing that picking up the sword is in any way faithful to the God who flexes his omnipotent muscles by dying for his enemies...


  6. Daniel,

    You are spot on! The problem comes when Christians fashion a soteriology that is "militocentric" (did I just coin a word?) instead of Christocentric. Sadly, this happens way too often.