Lone Survivor Never Out of the Fight

“Winning here is a conscious decision. Make up your mind whether you want to pass — or choose to fail.” … “Just prove to your bodies through your mind that you can push yourself further than you thought possible.” … “Whatever you have to do — just find an excuse to win. Keep going.”

And so begins ‘Lone Survivor,’ the true story of former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell’s fight to survive in the mountains of Afghanistan with his band of brothers of Seal Team 10. Director Peter Berg wisely uses real footage of potential SEALs undergoing Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training (BUD/S) during the opening credits to set the stage. These are men who believe winning — on the battlefield, in the business world or life in general — is a conscious decision. Men who willingly submit themselves to instructors of the “I’m going to introduce you to something called ‘not being able to breath,'” variety are, quite obviously, of a different breed. They are special on many levels. From a cinematic point of view, it also lets the audience know that death is about the only thing that can prevent a SEAL from his quest to “keep going.”

By this time in history, most people know the general details of Operation Redwing. In 2005, Luttrell and his team were sent to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border to take out a high-value target who was responsible for killing scores of Marines. Their mission was compromised, and they were put in an impossible situation: Do you kill a small group of people who you believe are likely allied with the enemy — even though they are unarmed and could end up being innocent civilians — or do you let them go, knowing that if you are wrong it will unleash endless waves of Taliban soldiers on your position? The SEALs chose to let their captives go. The rest is history.

Given that so many people know how the story ends, it really comes down to whether or not Peter Berg, Mark Wahlberg and the cast and crew did it justice. Without reservation, the answer is “yes.” Peter Berg seemingly moved mountains in Hollywood to get the film made, Wahlbeg and the cast immersed themselves in their roles, and the realism of the violence is both gut-wrenching and satisfying — “satisfying” in the sense that viewers know it could have been given the “Hollywood” treatment, replete with unbelievable explosions that break the laws of physics.

Perhaps Berg’s greatest feat is his treatment of the mountain. As a “character,” the mountain is paradoxically vast and expansive while being claustrophobic and limiting. When you run out of real estate on a mountain from which to fight there’s only one way to go — down. And that’s exactly what happens. Fate dealt the SEALs the worst hand possible on that mission; even the mountain terrain seemed to be against them. It was chilling to watch it mete out punishment on their bodies as they attempted to find cover and concealment.

“There’s a storm inside of us. I’ve heard many team guys speak of this. A burning. A river. A drive. An unrelenting driver to push yourself further than anyone could ever think possible. Pushing ourselves into those cold dark corners where the bad things live. Where the bad things fight. We wanted that fight at the highest volume. A loud fight. The loudest, coldest, darkest, most unpleasant of the unpleasant fights.” — Mark Wahlberg as former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, ‘Lone Survivor.’

Critics of the film will respond to the SEAL desire for a fight with the “live by the sword, die by the sword” rejoinder, which is a fair argument. However, fans of the film are also spot-on by acknowledging a.) that evil exists, and b.) there is something truly special about a man who will go to the “coldest, darkest, most unpleasant” corners of the earth to stamp it out. In service to their nation these men say “Send me. Send me to the dangerous places that no one else wants to go to so that I may ensure that they never need to.” For that, we should be eternally grateful. For the cast and crew’s efforts to bring ‘Lone Survivor’ to the big screen, we should also give thanks.

“Brave men fought and died building a proud tradition and fear of reputation that I am bound to uphold. I died up on that mountain. There is no question that a part of me will forever be upon that mountain dead as my brothers died. There is a part of me that lived because of my brothers. Because of them I am still alive, and I can never forget that no matter how much it hurts, how dark it gets or how far you fall — you are never out of the fight.” — Mark Wahlberg as former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, ‘Lone Survivor.’

Why did Marcus Luttrell live while his brothers died? Perhaps so he could tell the tale. Perhaps so one day someone in a life-or-death situation will think back upon Marcus’ survival and remember that they too are “never out of the fight.” How many young kids will see ‘Lone Survivor’ and begin a path that will end with them in position to save others? Probably quite a few.

If you get a chance to see ‘Lone Survivor,’ do so. It’s an important film that is educational as well as entertaining.

Related: Marcus Luttrell: The humbling tale of an American hero who calls himself a ‘coward’

Related: American Sniper: Chris Kyle, Guardian Angel who doesn’t know it

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About the Author Douglas Ernst

I'm a former Army guy who believes success comes through hard work, honesty, optimism, and perseverance. I believe seeing yourself as a victim creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believe in God. I'm a USC Trojan with an MA in Political Science from American University.

28 comments

  1. Great review Douglas. I tweeted it. Saw the movie Friday. Felt every bullet, piece of shrapnel and explosion. Brilliantly handled, but I would expect no less with Marcus Luttrell overseeing it to make sure his brothers, not him, was honored. Wahlberg gave a stellar performance. Good choice despite their size difference.

    1. Thanks for the read, as always, Diana. Yes, I was a little unsure about Wahlberg, but I can’t deny that he gave it his all. He’s also promoted the heck out of this film, which helped it solidify the top spot at the box office this weekend. I think it pulled in $38 million — not too shabby for a rated R movie in January…

    2. I haven’t read the review as this film comes out 31 Jan over here. I hope to see it the first weekend

    3. Good review. Haven’t seen it yet, but I hope to soon. It looks really good. Even my local newspaper gave it four out of four stars, and that’s unusual because they usually don’t praise movies like this and try to bash them instead.

    1. Thanks for the read, man. I appreciate it, as always. It’s definitely a solid war movie, although the book goes into far more detail. Regardless, I’m super glad that it made the big screen.

  2. Ok Doug, tell me: Is this a movie I can wait for home video or is it one I NEED to see on the big screen? And what kind of people should I bring along? I’m guessing like… my mom & aunt probably not, but should I see it with my Dad? Buddies? Date movie?

    Their mission was compromised, and they were put in an impossible situation

    Though I almost want to encourage people to see it just for that. As I’ve said before, I think the “take a 3rd option” has so infected our wider culture nobody seems to even want to believe that there can be a “no-win” scenario. (even Kirk got to bring his best friend back to life in the end)

    There’s some bloggers I can think of (obviously not you or anyone here) who would do well to think on this story and ponder the possibility that sometimes there is no “best” solution, just the “least bad” one.

    1. I would say this is definitely made for the big screen. Do you “need” to see it? Good question. I’m not sure how into military history you are, your desire to get a more accurate picture of the kinds of situations these soldiers run up against, etc. I highly recommend it. I’ll put it that way.

      It’s a somber movie, so whomever you bring with is going to have to understand that. It ends…as you’d expect. There are parts that are rather gut-wrenching, especially since you know it’s a true story.

      There are critics who have called this a “pro-war” movie, with all the hate and vitriol aimed at Luttrell that you’d expect. I’m not sure what they’re talking about, since it was an Afghan villager who came to Luttrell’s aide when he was on the brink of death. It was an Afghan villager who put his entire tribe at risk for an American. I think the story shows the complexity of the situation quite nicely. On one hand you have decent people who just want to live their lives; on the other you have psycho Taliban nuts who would love nothing more than to impose Sharia Law on as many people as possible.

      Indeed, sometimes there are “bad” and “worse” solutions to a problem. You’re on the mark when you make such an observation. That’s why foreign policy is difficult to begin with. Often times you’re dealing with “bad” guys and “worse” guys. Take Syria, for example: Would you rather have a dictator like Assad in power, or the Syrian rebels (composed of many al Qaeda-friendly groups, which would turn on the U.S. in a heartbeat)?

      If you get a chance to see an early showing of ‘Lone Survivor’ one Saturday or Sunday, I’d go for it.

    2. I saw a few reviews from obviously left-leaning publications that threw out the usual buzzwords like “pro-war” and “jingoistic.” The usual drivel from the left.

      I plan on seeing it eventually, though I’m not sure when. I might have to check out the new Tom Clancy movie this weekend, though, and see if that’s any good and can (hopefully) spawn a new franchise based on Jack Ryan.

    1. I’ve only ever watched his DVD-R-Hell reviews and the crossovers he’s done with other reviewers. The only TGWTG show I watch now is Atop the Fourth Wall. The Nostalgia Critic has become an utter parody of himself.

  3. I had the good fortune to see this move last weekend after much anticipation and it was worth the wait. It’s a powerful film that (thankfully) spotlights the very real courage and heroism of some remarkable Americans.

    I’ve personally been surprised by some critics attacking the movie for “pro-war” sentiments. Without giving too much away, I felt like it depicted war as a necessary evil, a tragic but best remedy for worse ills like oppression, tyranny, slavery, genocide, etc. As one of the other commentators noted, you definitely feel the sacrifice of the characters firsthand.

    If I could sum it up, it depicts combat as a sober responsibility, and one of last resort at that. I’d hardly call that jingoistic or pro-war, at least without a stretch on the parts of critics first.

    1. That’s for the feedback, Mark. I agree with you in that to categorize this as “pro-war” is a stretch. I’m not sure how you spin a movie titled ‘Lone Survivor’ into a “pro-war” film, but okay. All the guy’s friends died, he nearly died and the members of an Afghan village saved his life.

      Are the Taliban the kind of guys the U.S. military might be called on to take out? Sure. Are there good Afghans? Of course (as the movie clearly demonstrates). Regardless, I took the film to be about the sacrifice soldiers make for their country and the love they have for one another. The scene where one of the SEALs points to his band of brothers while stressing “You matter to me” instead of politicians back home or the enemy in front of them highlights that quite nicely.

    1. I liked it a lot. Will say more on it later but it was a film which shows how mentally tough you need to be to be able to do what these men do.

      The initial training montage blew me away as these were obviously real training sessions. A woman behind me in the cinema was shocked by the training regime and said it was “inhumane”. I just shook my head. These men were training for extreme situations. You can’t do that without being extreme.

      I loved the camaraderie shown throughout. From the hazing the new guy at the beginning, to the way they dealt with being shot and injured.

      Will post more later after I read your review Doug.

    2. Yes, I’m very glad they had that training montage in the beginning. That woman in back of you makes me laugh… She’s living on a completely different plan of reality if she doesn’t understand why that sort of training exists.

    3. Yeah. I found it funny as well. Unless you put your body through something how will you be able to cope with it when it happens?

      I have ordered Luttrell’s book today.

      I had a film crazy weekend and saw Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and Robocop. I was pleasantly surprised by both. A very good weekend of films.

  4. I bought my dad the dvd and book as a father’s day present. We watched it together on Sunday afternoon and he enjoyed it. He is already halfway through the book.

    I have not read the book yet myself.

    1. He loves military books, Doug. He messaged me last night to say I should start reading my own copy.

    1. Just started reading it today. So far I’m enjoying it a lot. I also like how Marcus takes the liberal media to task for demonizing American soldiers during the War on Terror. It’s the perfect book to use against the so-called “experts” (liberal anti-war activists, college professors, clueless younger siblings, etc.) who think they “know” more about war than actual servicemen and women do.

  5. Finished it today, after I got in from shoveling the sidewalk. I really enjoyed it. I think it should’ve been used as the template for Captain America black ops missions in Afghanistan, but of course Marvel is too PC to ever consider such a story.

  6. Marcus Luttrell is to be applauded in my book right along with his shipmates. However; it was unfortunate that they had made an error in judgement or “tactical mistake” that cost them their lives, to include even more of their shipmates during the extraction attempt by the mike force. Mission comes first…the “goat herdsmen” were far from that, when they were in possession of high end commo…they were “combatants!” and should’ve been dealt with as such. At the very least, tied up to the trees with their radios taken away..or taken back for interrogation when the the decision was made to “bug out.” Why wasn’t Luttrell’s team in possession of plain jane ropes for an quick Aussie rapel down the mountain instead of a tumble? But enough said about mission mistakes , yada yada…the real problem right now is with SF or “SOF” doctrine in general. Overall Intelligence Agencies should know this from past failures when meddling with American Foreign Policies that they are shaping…for one, “winning the hearts and minds…”you can’t do that, you already lost, no matter how big and bad you are! I think it’s just another “waiste” of America’s Best and Brightest to a mindless, purpusless war, being fought to put dollars into the pockets of “Big Daddy Warbucks!”
    Nobody will EVER convince me that the US ARMED FORCES can’t defeat ANY small Country or Countries like Afghanistan or Iraq…or Vietnam for that matter! D.M.

    1. Nobody will EVER convince me that the US ARMED FORCES can’t defeat ANY small Country or Countries like Afghanistan or Iraq…or Vietnam for that matter!

      You are correct. Wasn’t Vietnam like a 50 to 1 kill ratio? I believe the kill ratios in Iraq and Afghanistan have also been incredibly skewed in favor of the U.S. … but the problem is that something happened along the way where officials decided it was worth it to try and fight politically correct wars. It doesn’t really work that way.

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