“If I die I need you to make sure that Cindy knows how much I love her… And that I died with my brothers – with a full f—ing heart.”
In Sleepless in Seattle, the guys have a humorous scene where they talk about how – unlike women and their tear-jerking romantic comedies – men shed their alligators at movies like The Dirty Dozen. When the credits roll for the film Lone Survivor, and the real-life wedding videos and family photos of fallen soldiers fill the screen, no real man should be without watery eyes. There is no humor to be had here: just a profound appreciation for dedication, perseverance, brotherhood, and more.
Mark Wahlberg plays the role of real life Marcus Luttrell, as his team sets out on a mission to capture or kill the notorious al Qaeda leader Ahmad Shahd in late June 2005. Marcus and his team make an ethical choice that leads to heavy sacrifices in what some consider one of the most valiant efforts of modern warfare. Peter Berg directs a stellar cast including Ben Foster, Taylor Kitsch, Eric Bana, Emile Hirsch and more. The result is a gripping film marked by a surprising array of virtues that should humble the average American viewer, and others as well. However, while the trailers and taglines have focused primarily on brotherhood, there are three facets to be seen and felt when experiencing this tale and brotherhood, although amazing, is a close second to the real lesson.
“I’m a lover, I’m a fighter, I’m a UDT Navy SEAL diver. I’ll wine, dine, intertwine, and sneak out the back door when the refueling is done. So if you’re feeling froggy, then you better jump, because this frogman’s been there, done that and is going back for more. Cheers boys.”
The film begins with a look at the grueling training and qualifications needed to join this elite team of defenders, and while one might view it from myriad angles I found it fascinating to think how many of us – passionate about our work, our dreams, and for Christians our “great commission” don’t exhibit anything close to the endurance and perseverance these men must face and overcome. We civilians watch things like G.I. Joe or less (or perhaps more) camoflagued narratives like Star Trek and imagine being part of such a dedicated team, but most of us lack more than the physical demands for what we see here: we probably lack the emotional rigor and spiritual vigor as well.
“…but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts.” – Romans 5:3-5
It’s convicting to imagine what could get done if we had half the resolve of men like these on the battlefields we speak of. Berg and his boys act this to perfection and show us not only individual resolve, but the second facet of brotherhood. In a culture that snickers and can’t cope with the relationship of a Sam and Frodo – or a David and Jonathan – we see men who truly care about one another and are willing to invest not only with advice about marriage, wedding presents and paint swatches but risk their lives for one another in an environment so harsh and nightmarish most of us could scarcely comprehend it. As for what leads to this decision:
Marcus Luttrell: “The rules of engagement says we cannot touch them.”
Matt Axelson: “I understand. And I don’t care. I care about you. I care about you. I care about you. I care about you.”
The ethics these men face when some local civilians stumble upon them, forced to weigh the care they have for one another and the temptation to break the rules of engagement, is palpable. How will they deal with local civilians who likely hate them, and will give them up as soon as they’re let go? Their decision demonstrates an integrity that could cost all of them their lives.
What morals and ethics lead us to put our own survival – survival of the fittest, and survival of friends or those we consider family – ahead of our own lives? It’s difficult to justify when utilizing any secular philosophy, and reflects the heart of Christ that would count others more highly than one’s self. And so the team risks discovery and death, looking out for one another as they race for an unlikely escape.
“… there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” – Proverbs 18:24
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:13
What’s not highlighted about the film, by the trailers and taglines, is the deepest love imaginable shown by someone other than the SEAL team. When Marcus is pulled out of a puddle by local villagers in Afghanistan… men who not only give him aid, shelter and clothing but hold off the Taliban at gunpoint and risk death for themselves, their wives, and their children… we see one of the clearest examples of what Jesus described when he told the parable of the Good Samaritan. When a man asked Jesus “who is my neighbor” Jesus responded by describing a situation where a man helps a stranger all his friends and neighbors would likely loathe. It’s not just helping someone you don’t know, but someone considered worthless by those around you. Even Marcus Luttrell can’t fathom why this man helps him; it could even mean the merciless slaughter of the man’s adorable little son. Again and again Marcus cries out:
“Why are you doing this for me?”
Whether the villagers know it or not, they’re living out a desire of God manifest in ancient times, amidst the early formation of God’s people and echoed and emphasized by the incarnate Christ:
“You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself… I am the Lord your God.” – Leviticus 19:34
“I was a stranger and you welcomed me…” – Matthew 25
For me, this was the most poignant moment in Lone Survivor and delivered the 1-2-3 punch that makes it worth engaging and contemplating, and edifying reminder of the virtues we’re called to exhibit as image-bearers of God. I’m uncertain how these virtues are considered noble – or practical – outside of a worldview where our Creator is imminent and inviting us to image virtues higher than our own self-preservation, and Lone Survivor emulates clearly that life is about far more than mere survival.
Questions for Discussion:
- How do you think you rate on discipline? Endurance? Perseverance?
- What gives you the strength for these things?
- Do you desire the type of brotherhood (sisterhood) uplifted in this film?
- Do you believe you have it?
- Would you open your household – and safety, and life – to help someone like Marcus?
- Why or why not?