Gung-ho at Midnight: Fury (David Ayer, 2014)
A shot near the end of Fury shows two soldiers—one German, one U.S. American—grappling with each other in the mud as part of the final showdown between the U.S. tank and the hundreds of SS troops that they are trying to stop. The shot is reminiscent of the famous battle scene in Orson Welles’s Chimes at Midnight (1966), for some the best battle scene ever filmed and a fierce denunciation of the absurdity, cruelty and savagery of war. The final shot of Fury, an overhead shot of dozens of piled-up dead bodies around a destroyed tank, also reminds the viewer of Welles’s Shakespearean adaptation. I have no idea whether David Ayer had the previous film in mind when he created these shots or whether, if he did, he intended them as homage to the master, a way to share his views on war, or an appropriation of them in order to produce new meanings. Visual quotation in films is a complex matter and one that is open to an assortment of interpretations. In my case, it made me feel uncomfortable that Chimes was being quoted, or rather, misquoted in a film that to me is, first and foremost, an unambiguous celebration of U.S. men at war, with the attendant bravado, bonding and violence and without the slightest hint of distance, irony or critique. I have not seen such a congregation of good old plain American heroes for quite a while, courageous, patriotic and religious, commanded by the impressive muscularity, both literal and metaphorical, of star Brad Pitt. All of it felt as far as it was possible from the quoted text. What this portends in a movie released in the present international climate and the current geopolitical situation is certainly complex and worth speculating on, but I just wish they had left Chimes at Midnight alone.
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