“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