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Bonus Film Assignment

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I always thought playing a field hockey game with a sprained ankle was tough, or remaining in the game after getting hit in the elbow with a pitch; that is until this past weekend. Saturday afternoon, I learned what toughness really is, in the form of Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell. The 120 minutes I sat in the theater and watched Lone Survivor taught me not only the true definition of toughness, but about brotherhood and loyalty to those around you.

Lone Survivor is the tale of four Navy SEALs, who as part of operation Red Wings were dropped into the mountainous region of Afghanistan to do surveillance and ultimately eliminate the leader of a pro-Taliban group, who was responsible for the recent killing of a group of marines. The film begins where all SEAL life begins, BUDs training and hell week. Although the glimpse into the training of the seals was brief, it opened the window into just mentally and physically tough America’s ultimate warriors are. From the repeated exposure to ungodly cold water, the team boat carries to the tactically operations; these men are tested every which way possible.

We are introduced to our four main characters: Marcus Luttrell, Mike Murphy, Matt Axelson and Danny Dietz, as the group is experiencing the all too common down time between missions. Very quickly the action heats up as the four are briefed on their mission and begin preparations. The mission begins routinely enough as they are dropped into the mountains and hike their way to the observation point where they are to lay eyes on the village to make sure their target is there. It is here we get the first glimpse as to the groups toughness as this is no routine hike up the Appalachian Trail, but a rugged adventure carrying the full weight of all their gear.

Upon reaching their vantage point, the four realize they can’t get good eyes on the target and have to move a little lower down the mountain. It is here they realize they may do their deceased brethren justice and attempt to move to higher ground to establish radio contact. Here is the first sign of trouble as neither Dietz (the communications guy) nor Murphy (the man with the satellite phone) is able to establish contact with their superiors. The men decide to move back up to higher ground; both to wait for the moment to execute their plan and establish communications.

The men’s fortune changes in the blink of an eye, as three goat herders stumble onto the SEAL time, jeopardizing their mission. The team ties the men up and begins a heated debate on what to do with them. All four are in agreement that this is a no win situation, both morally and tactically, finally deciding (after multiple failed attempts to contact their superiors) to release the Afghanis and move to a more concealed location and await further orders. With a speed even stunning to the SEALs, the three Afghanis go back into the nearby village and alert it’s armed men (led by their high value target) as to the prescience of the SEALs.

The SEAL team is quickly ambushed, and despite their training, outgunned. The four engage in a furious firefight with the enemy. Quickly the men realize how dire the situation is and that movement is their key to survival. After being outflanked at every turn, the SEALs do the unthinkable and launch themselves down the backside of the slope they had been occupying. One jump is bad enough, but the team must make a second jump as the enemy has now brought RPGs to the fight. After the second jump the SEAL team experiences their first casualty as communications man Dietz is unable to make the jump and is killed execution style by some of the men from the enemy group.

The ultimate toughness by the SEALs is on display here as Axelson continues fighting, despite having a serious head wound and Luttrell’s body is not only battered, but later we learn broken. At this point all three team members come to the realization this may be it for them unless they are able to get help. Murphy undertakes the ultimate sacrifice, leaving his position of concealment to climb to the high point to establish communications and call for help. Murphy’s body is riddled with bullets as he completes his call for help, dying to save his ‘brothers’. Things turn for Luttrell as he and Axe are separated after an RPG blast, with Axe ultimately dying at the enemy’s hands.

Luttrell is forced to rely on his SEAL training as he must hide from an enemy force who would love nothing more than to capture torture and ultimately kill an America. Luttrell escapes immediate capture and goes into hiding. Fearing for his survival, Luttrell humps through the Afghan mountains on a severely injured leg where he passes out into a small stream; only to be discovered by an Afghani man and his son. Fearing capture by the pro-Taliban group Luttrell pulls the pin in a grenade while screaming at the man. Overcoming the language barrier, the man takes the wounded American in provides him with food, water and most importantly protection from those seeking to do him harm. The man puts his village directly in harm’s way as the group responsible for the ambush has its sights set on finishing the job in started. After a rough three days in hiding, and surviving two attacks by the pro-Taliban group, Luttrell is rescued and returned, badly injured to his fellow Americans where he not only survives, but continues to serve in the SEALs for another 2 years.

The central theme of Lone Survivor is toughness, both mentally and physically. This is on display from the opening of Lone Survivor as we see SEAL hopefuls battle through training with some men dropping out. True toughness is on display as we view the trials and tribulations Luttrell, Axe, Murphy and Dietz go through on that mountaintop. The four men are outgunned and outmanned, yet continue to fight. They are hit with bullets, shrapnel and everything else one can be hit with during a firefight. The four SEALs continue to fight, having the physical toughness to continue to take the fight to the enemy and the mental toughness to not let their injuries or impending death interfere with their mission, or in this case the survival of their brothers. I can’t think of a single person in the theater who didn’t moan or groan at some point during the fire fight, even though I’m sure many people had read the book and knew what was coming. After viewing the film, my mindset on SEALs changed. I previously thought SEAL training was sadistic and there was no reason any human would or should undergo that. I now understand that it is not sadistic, but weeds out those are do not possess the toughness needed to survive situations beyond anyone’s comprehension.

The second major theme of the film is brotherhood and loyalty. This is a core value of all members of the military, but more so those of the SEALs. Each of the members of Luttrell’s SEAL team refuses to stop fighting, owing to the other three members to do whatever is necessary to make sure their brothers get home alive, even if it means sacrificing their own life. Luttrell and his teammates continuously call out for each other during the fire fight, making sure not only does the team stick together, but that each individual is alive. Despite injuries that would incapacitate most men, Axe keeps fighting, knowing it is the only way to insure the survival of his brothers. Murphy extols brotherhood and loyalty at its finest by giving his life to make the final call on his sat phone, in attempt to save what he thinks is the other half of his SEAL team. Most mortal men, including some members of the military from other branches, would have run, or at the very least thought about personal survival first. The members of the SEAL team not only fight to the death, but Murphy gives his life in the ultimate act of brotherhood. Two smaller examples of loyalty are Axe, Murphy and Luttrell attempting to recover the body of Dietz once they realized he has been killed; and the efforts by the military to recover the bodies of the three deceased SEALS as well as those killed during the initial rescue mission.

As thrilling and uplifting as Lone Survivor was, I did take one negative out of the film, the gross inadequacy of the American military in Afghanistan after the invasion of Iraq. Before the shooting begins high up in the mountains, we see this as the Black Hawk escort for the Chinooks is forced to leave the support personal because it is needed to support troops in another part of Afghanistan. Multiple times throughout the rescue mission, including the initial rescue mission, the Quick Reaction Force and other support personnel are woefully under equipped, or in this instance under protected. I am not, nor do I claim to be a military expert, but I know enough that you would never plan, begin or execute a mission without sufficient fire support.

Overall I felt Lone Survivor was a good movie. The toughness and loyalty of Luttrell’s SEAL team gave me an even greater appreciation for those who serve our country. Everyday away from their loved ones they are making a giant sacrifice, but on some days- they make the ultimate sacrifice so that we may “sleep peacefully in our beds at night.” (George Orwell)…...

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