Monday, April 25, 2011

Rambo III - Peter MacDonald

"Can you not stay?"
-Hamid (Doudi Shoua)

If Rambo I & II were about giving the Vietnam vets their place in American society, Rambo III is about anti-Sovietism. Rambo III is also considerably more violent than its predecessors. In the first two movies, Rambo was on creatine; in the third one, he mixed clenbuterol and nandrolone for breakfast.

Propaganda is useful to assess the mood of a given country in a given age and can have some aesthetic value. No one can seriously deny that Leni Reinfestahl's  movies are impressive and masterfully executed even if they are pieces of Nazi propaganda. The Battleship Potemkin and Alexander Nevsky by Sergei Eisenstein are pieces of art even if they have a clear political agenda in favor of communism.

American propaganda movies do not have a good reputation as far as their aesthetic value is concerned. Part of the reason is that intellectuals -including movie critics- hate liberal democracy, which is a system that rewards the most popular, but not necessarily the smartest. The other part of the reason is that Americans have an inherent bad taste. I mean, what can you wait of the country that came up with the idea hanging around in "flip flops" is normal and even cool? American action movies are vulgar, which is part of their charm. But when you mix vulgarity with a political agenda, it's a little bit too much. 

I defended Rambo I & II based on the values that they tried to convey, as well as on their influence of modern action movies. Rambo III deserves to be watched, if anything, because it is a praise of the Afghan warriors who defeated the Soviet Union with American sponsorship, just to turn against the United States a couple of years later. The romantic description of mujahedeen (مجاهدين), as said by a  tribe's leader when Rambo enters Afghanistan ("warriors who have given their vows to die for god and their land...") has  nothing to do with the idea we have of them today.

Rambo III shows what went wrong with the United States' policy in Afghanistan in particular and with American armed interventions in general. The problem with the US interventions abroad is not, as some critics to the left say, that Americans finance illiberal groups who have the potential to turn against the US (as if these critics actually loved liberalism...). If the Wikileaks papers have shown something is that the US diplomacy has some knowledge of the people it deals with. Americans obviously knew who Osama bin Laden was when they financed his movement in the 1980s. What they didn't know (nobody did, actually) was that the Soviet Union would implode so spectacularly after the Afghan War, creating a vacuum in Central Asia quickly filled by Islamism. If politics is the choice between the lesser of two evils, financing and arming bin Laden was the right choice: containing the Soviet Union was necessary for international security. 

The problem with the US interventions is that Americans don't stay to rebuild the country after wars. Haiti, the Philippines, Afghanistan (in the 1980s), and Iraq, are just a couple of examples of how the US just breaks and leaves. And when they stay, they try to build institutions on the cheap, as the current intervention in Afghanistan shows. Americans are good at financing arms purchases but bad at providing loans or grants to build schools. Rambo III is "dedicated to the gallant Afghan people." I bet that none of the proceeds actually went to build a single roadblock in Afghanistan after the Soviets left. The value of Rambo III is that it shows that the Afghans were just one pawn in the Cold War. Rambo could have fought in Mars. It didn't matter, as long as he fought against the Soviets.

Americans could rebuild Afghanistan after the war. They could have build schools, send Peace Corps volunteers, do something. One of the perversions of American democracy is that the weapons lobby can quickly mobilize Congress to spend billions of dollars on arms purchases, but approving appropriations for international cooperation is painfully slow. 

In an alternate ending, Rambo stays fighting with the the mujahedeen. It would have been a beautiful historic irony that this ending would have been preserved: the icon of American liberty fighting alongside the future terrorists of 9/11...

Here's the trailer of Rambo III:

And you can watch here the speech of Colonel Trautman that Americans forgot between 2001 and 2009. The irony is just total. Sad that the embeddding is disabled.


  1. Ya vi First Blood 1 y creo que ahí me quedaré, prefiero la explicación sociológica-histórica-económica a la película. Lo cual me recuerda la frase de alguien sobre el arte moderno: "el problema no es entenderlo, sino encontrarle un uso." Estas pelis son, en cierta manera, lo contrario.

  2. ¡Lástima! Más allá de su escaso valor artístico, al dejar de verlas te vas a perder de un par de películas fundamentales para entender el cine de acción actual.