Conventional wisdom would have us believe that Rambo III did not age well, particularly its dedication "to the gallant people of Afghanistan." In fact, the film has taken on even greater significance than it initially had. ‘Our’ Wilsonian-on-steroids ruling class still believes in the elusive gallantry of the Afghan people, in their nonexistent desire for “democracy.” The mujahideen whom our government armed across the region and whom Rambo fought with are the same men who now decapitate and torture Americans and organize terror attacks across Europe and North America. We have been maneuvered into making the same mistakes the USSR made in the Middle East; even as the film captures the dying days of the Soviet empire, it holds up a mirror to our own.
After two decades, America has made a peace with the Taliban. In these two decades, we lost seven thousand men in five wars, with over forty thousand wounded. Unknown trillions of dollars were wasted. We have nothing to show for our efforts; we are actually far weaker than we were when we started on the path to Hell. Three decades after the end of the Cold War, Deep State operatives have continued to needlessly and counterproductively make Russia, which should be a great natural ally, into an enemy, driving it into our real enemies’ arms. President Putin is an example that the Dissident Right should look to; such strides could have been made in combatting China and Islam, yet we were deceived into undeclared hostilities.
Three years after the events of First Blood Part II, Rambo has remained in Thailand. Colonel Trautman approaches him with another mission, a CIA-sponsored operation to supply the Afghan mujahideen in their fight against the Soviet Union. As Trautman shows Rambo photos of atrocities (such as “chemical warfare” …ring any bells?) committed against civilians, he tries to persuade him to join. Their exchange:
“I don't know how much you know about Afghanistan. Most people can't even find it on a map! But over two million civilians, mostly peasant farmers and their families, have been systematically slaughtered by invading Russian armies. Every new weapon, including chemical warfare, has been used to eliminate these people. And they've been very successful, at many levels. I assume that you're out of touch with the current state of the war. But after nine years of fighting, the Afghan forces are now getting Stinger missiles, and are now beginning to hold their own against the airstrikes. Except for one region. Apparently, the Soviet commander there is exceptionally brutal, as those photos indicate…We want to...investigate the problem firsthand.”
“And what that's got to do with me? I put in my time…my war is over…Do you really think we can make a difference?”
“If I didn't, I wouldn't be going.”
“It didn't before.”
“That was another time.”
“I like being here, I like working here. I like belong into something.”
“You do belong to something. Not this. When’re you're gonna come full circle?”
“What are you talking about?”
“You said that your war is over. I think the one out there is, but not the one inside you. I know the reasons you're here, John. But it doesn't work that way. You may try, but you can't get away from what you really are…There was a sculptor and he found a stone, a special stone. He dragged it home and he worked on it for months, until he finally finished. When he was ready, he showed it to his friends, and they said he had created a great statue. The sculptor said he hadn't created anything. The statue was always there…We didn't make you this fighting machine. We just shifted away the rough edges.”
“Colonel, I'm sorry. But it's gotta end for me sometime.”
Trautman unintentionally exposes the futility and idiocy of putting American lives on the line for a country that most Americans cannot find on a map, an insignificant patch of desert that has been marinating in blood for centuries. Even if we were to validate that it was valuable to engage in proxy warfare with the USSR, our involvement with the mujahideen was patently unnecessary. Clearly, whatever goodwill we established with the Afghans was infinitesimal, and the Soviets defeated themselves without our having to assist them. Rambo asks the prime question that any American leader should ask when contemplating the use of force: “What’s that got to do with me?”
Trautman also displays the sheer madness of the ruling class when he states that this time, we can make a difference. This is manifestly fallacious. Our leaders continue to make the same wrongheaded decisions, time after time; every single one of our foreign entanglements since perhaps the Mexican War or the Spanish-American War has been an unmitigated disaster. Iraq is a failed state. Afghanistan remains in the hands of the Taliban. Syria has been leveled, its once-protected Christian population decimated. There are slave markets and a civil war raging in Libya. Rambo is done. He recognizes that there must be an endpoint. He is exhausted, much as our empire is today, the wind gone out of our sails.
Though Rambo claims that his war is over, Trautman pushes back, arguing that Rambo still has a war raging inside of him. This is more, however, than just a reference to the psychological trauma that suffuses Rambo’s being. Trautman uses the illustration of a sculptor chipping away at a stone to raise the intriguing issue that the military did not create Rambo, but rather cleared away the chaff to reveal the killer that always lay within. Trautman asserts that Rambo will never be able to transcend himself, to escape what he really is. We are left with the question, just who and what is Rambo? Does this mean that the innocence of the nation that Rambo represents was always an illusion? Perhaps, as D.H. Lawrence put it, “The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has not yet melted.”
Trautman proceeds without Rambo, and the mission is botched. All of the men are killed, and Trautman captured by the Soviets for interrogation. Rambo is informed that Trautman has been seized, but the American Embassy refuses to organize a rescue; officers, it thus appears, are just as expendable as the enlisted. Rambo, aware that he is alone and will be disavowed if captured, sets out to save his friend. With scant assistance from the mujahideen, Rambo infiltrates the Soviet base, reaching Trautman just as he is about to be burned with a flamethrower. Rambo rescues his former superior and they make their escape. Aided by the mujahideen, though of course Rambo does the bulk of the work, they rout the Soviets and make their way across the border into Pakistan.
Two conversation fragments are worth probing. The first is a portion of the Soviet commander’s interrogation of Trautman:
“You're alone here. Abandoned by your government.”
“You talk peace and disarmament to the world, and here you are, wiping out a race of people…You started this damn war, now you have to deal with it!”
“And we will. It is just a matter of time before we achieve a complete victory.”
“You know there won't be a victory. Every day, your war machines lose ground to a bunch of poorly armed, poorly-equipped freedom fighters! The fact is that you underestimated your competition. If you studied your history, you'd know these people never gave up to anyone. They'd rather die than be slaves to an invading army. You can't defeat a people like that. We tried. We already had our Vietnam! Now you're gonna have yours!”
The Soviet commander might well have been a time-traveling American general from the present day. Victory is always just around the corner, just over the hill, “just a matter of time.” Trautman’s advice to the Soviet should have been transcribed, printed, and distributed to every American general and politician. At the time, America had indeed had its Vietnam; we have now had a pitiful procession of consecutive Vietnams. A superpower brought to its knees, unable to win a war and conquer a Third World peasantry on camelback, armed with twenty-year-old AK-47s.
The second conversation fragment is a statement one of the mujahideen leaders makes to Rambo: “What you see here, are the Mujahideen soldiers, holy warriors. To us, this war is a holy war. And there is no true death for a Mujahideen, because we…consider ourselves already dead. To us, death for our land and god is an honor.” Perhaps one of the reasons we are unable, or perhaps merely unwilling, to defeat the desert people is the very fact that we know that we are fighting for nothing. Again, we must be clear that while the war may be for nothing, or for a shadowy something, an “American interest” that actually runs counter to our interests, the American soldier does fight in our name; his life is valuable. While the mujahideen jihadist fights a holy war for his god, we half-heartedly fight for a farcical idea, an amorphous “value” that has no content. How could we possibly be expected to win with this discrepancy in motive?
Rambo, the fourth installment in the franchise, is the ultimate epitome of the Wilsonian delusion of our secular “human rights” theocracy, of the pitfalls of interventionism. The film opens with a montage featuring news footage of the 2007 Saffron Revolution in Burma, involving fighting between Karen Rebels and the State Peace and Development Council, the military junta which then ruled the country. The montage shows war crimes, sex slaves, and child soldiers, in an orgiastic frenzy of violent mayhem.
Following the events of Rambo III, Rambo has remained in Thailand as a ferryman and snake catcher at a local river attraction. He is approached by a group of American missionaries who ask him to guide them into Burma. The fact that the Americans are missionaries is crucial, a reflection of the missionary spirit held over from the era of imperial conquest. The White Man’s Burden still exists in a permutated form; America continues to shoulder the obligations of a civilizing mission if no longer a Christianizing mission, to “make the world safe for democracy” and other nebulous “American interests.” This remnant of a Christian duty, hijacked by the Leftist theology of neoconservative universalism, is used as a cudgel to bludgeon our hearts into taking whatever action the rulers of the darkness of this world wish us to. As aforementioned, though, the interventionism of value exportation is an imperial phantom, doomed to failure. The twin missions of Christianization and conquest were the animating spirit of European supremacy, of American Manifest Destiny. Once those missions evaporated, and in the aftermath of World War Two, we were left without a spirit. All that remained was a dying light and a looming shadow.
Though the interventionist is nothing but a will-o’-the-wisp that leads us ever deeper into ruin, and though he always loses the war, he always wins the battle. When the choice is between intervention and nonintervention (or isolation, the oft-deployed and purposely pejorative term), intervention will always win. Intervention wins because its pathos is a different beast than that of America First. The former is one that allows us to feel morally superior, to continue to envision ourselves as a superpower, to fill the hole left vacant by a Christian charity now departed; above all, though, the interventionist pathos allows the ruling class to turn a blind eye to the misery of our own people, the sun setting on our country. The latter is one that healthy nations must employ, that its own people and its own citizens are the only necessity; this is easily assailed from the Left as “selfish”, as if our nation, now in its death throes, has no problems, and it is instead the Global South that our dwindling resources should be wasted on.
When the second staged “chemical attack” occurred in Syria, before it had been exposed as a fabrication, I was skeptical. Just as the first “attack” resulted in mass American airstrikes, drawing us into the civil war, the second appeared primarily to serve as a pretextual justification for more serious American intervention, including the possibility of placing soldiers on the ground. My grandfather, the greatest Christian man I have ever known, believed media reports of the attack. Born in 1933, he had grown up in an America whose institutions had only just begun to decay; the news had not yet dropped its mask or been exposed for what it is. He believed that it was our duty to intervene on behalf of the Syrian people; never mind that, just like Hussein, Assad was the only force holding back nihilistic jihadists and keeping Syrian Christians alive. I argued with him from the America First position; he sincerely could not accept it. He was compelled by the false consciousness of moral duty, implanted from without.
A common interventionist argument, used even by some who did not support our Middle Eastern quagmires, is that we had a moral duty to intervene in the demonic barbarism that occurred on an industrial scale in the Rwandan Civil War and the First Congo War. One friend was aghast at my assertion that we did the correct thing by not acting. He asked me, “So you would have just let all of those people be slaughtered?” I calmly said, “Yes.” This is the strong stomach that our leaders often lack. When we consider the apocalyptic nightmare in Vietnam, can we imagine what jungle warfare in sub-Saharan Africa would entail? Why should an American life be spent on that dark continent, mired forever in a chaos that can never be ordered?
Rambo’s exchange with the missionaries illuminates much of the preceding discussion:
“Burma’s a war zone.”
“That’s what people call it, but it’s more like genocide than war. Anyway…we are aware of all the risks. Our church is part of a pan-Asian ministry located in Colorado. We’re all volunteers…who bring in medical supplies, medical attention, prayer books, and support…help change people’s lives.”
“Are you bringing any weapons?”
“Of course not.”
“You’re not going to change anything.”
“It’s thinking like that that keeps the world the way it is.”
“Fuck the world.”
The leader of the missionaries gives up, but his wife, the beautiful Sarah, continues to work on Rambo, who tells her to “go home.”
“We need to go and help these people. We’re here to make a difference. We believe all lives are special.”
“Some lives, some no.”
“Really? If everyone thought like you, nothing would ever change.”
“Nothing does change.”
“Of course it does. Nothing stays the same.”
“Live your life, because you got a good one.”
“It’s what I’m trying to do.”
“No, what you’re trying to do is change what is.”
“Maybe you lost your faith in people, but you must still be faithful to something. You must still care about something. Maybe you can’t change what is, but trying to save a life isn’t wasting your life, is it?”
The missionaries are in the bondage of their own hubris. They genuinely believe that they can change Burma, that their medical supplies and prayer books can create a lasting change. This hubris, idealism by another name, is not necessarily to be condemned. As Christians, we must believe that we can make a difference, and even in the face of probable doom, must still try. But what must we try to do or accomplish, and why? This sentiment is easily manipulated. We are not called to build a utopia or embark upon a fruitless journey toward the consummation of some ephemeral “Progress”. We are called to be in but never of the world. Rambo realizes that the world cannot be saved, or even changed. He wants no part of it in any case. He has seen a lifetime’s worth of crushing agony, and pain permeates his vision. While all lives may indeed be special, Rambo here advocates another kind of idealism, that love for one’s own. He cautions Sarah that she should return home and live her life, because she has a good one. He is warning her not to follow the path that he charged down. He loved his home so much that he lost it forever.
Sarah’s final appeal to Rambo’s pathos, that “trying to save a life isn’t wasting your life”, appears to be successful. Rambo agrees to transport the missionaries. Clearly, he knows that yes, indeed, the quest to save lives often is the waste of one’s own life. This pathological altruism is partially responsible for the Camp of the Saints invasion of Europe and North America, as well as a motivating factor, as we have discussed, in our foreign adventurism. The fact that Rambo nevertheless relents suggests to me that although he doesn’t believe her, a large piece of him still wants to. Though he remains a philosophical noninterventionist, his heart drives him into physical intervention. Hope is an addictive drug.
En route to their destination, Sarah speaks to Rambo as he pilots their boat. Her husband doesn’t even want to speak to the veteran, saying, “He’s been paid.” Sarah replies that Rambo would not accept any payment. This hearkens back to the oppositional civilian-military dichotomy of First Blood, insofar as those that employ men like Rambo to do their dirty work do not deign to associate with them, thinking themselves superior. Rambo tells Sarah that his father may be alive in Bowie, Arizona. He observes river pirates, and asks Sarah what she wants to do. She tells him to proceed, saying, “We should keep going. We made a commitment.”
The pirates spot them, and board. They ridicule the “white fools” and demand that the “whore” be handed over into sexual slavery. Rambo, as he is wont to do, kills them all. Shocked, the ungrateful missionary leader, Sarah’s husband, screams, “What did you do?! We came here to stop the killing! Who are you to-” Rambo cuts him off, choking him, and says, “Who are you?! They would have raped her fifty times and cut their fucking heads off. Who are you? Who are any of you?” Sarah defuses the situation, declaring that they must go on because “we made a commitment. I know you don’t believe in what we’re doing, but it’s our life. Our choice.” Once more, Rambo admonishes, “You’re not gonna change anything.”
This incident is a perfect example of Western naïveté with respect to the extreme hatred and gruesome violence directed at us by the Global South. We simply cannot comprehend this type of horror, though we do experience similar incidents on a smaller (though no less brutal) scale in our blighted urban areas. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina provides a case study, as do the horrific murders in Wichita, Kansas, and Knoxville, Tennessee, respectively in 2000 and 2007; there are a litany of similar cases. The now-ceaseless reports of Muslim atrocities committed across Europe provide yet more examples. The 2018 decapitations of two young Scandinavian women in Morocco are another, as is the film Taken, which portrays another naïve young American girl in Paris abducted and sold into sexual slavery.
Upon their arrival at the missionaries’ destination, Sarah’s ungrateful husband severs ties with Rambo, telling him that they will take a different route back. He petulantly tells Rambo that “I have to report this…taking a life is never right.” After he walks away, Sarah says goodbye to Rambo. She says, “I don’t know what to say.” Rambo replies, “Then you shouldn’t say anything, should you? Good luck.” She gives him her necklace, a small wooden cross. They part ways.
The missionaries are almost immediately abducted in a grisly SPDC attack on the village they are working in. The pastor of their church contacts Rambo to lead a team of mercenaries on a rescue operation, explaining, “I requested help from the embassy, but they can’t help. Not in Burma, and not in time.” Once again, the American government is portrayed quite negatively; any myth that we subscribed to wherein our rulers can be counted on to protect us has been thoroughly tarnished by the Rambo franchise. As Rambo forges a machete, he thinks to himself:
“You know what you are, what you’re made of. War is in your blood. Don’t fight it. You didn’t kill for your country, you killed for yourself. God’s never gonna make that go away. When you’re pushed, killing’s as easy as breathing.”
This internal monologue recalls Trautman’s sculptor analogy, that Rambo, and by extension our nation, was not transformed into a killer, but rather always was. Rambo seems to have internalized this and, in Trautman’s parlance, “come full circle.” He seems to have reckoned with who he is, and in this moment stops fighting it, allowing “war” to become him again. Rambo apparently still adheres to his “first blood” doctrine, reacting only when pushed. The most intriguing line here, though, goes to his motivations: what was it all for? Did Rambo, as he claims, kill for himself rather than his country? This is likely a reference to the inherently personalized experience of war; once a war is initiated, though the soldier does fight for a Cause, for God, for Hearth and Home, the heat of battle refines his motivation to something primal: kill or be killed. The grand metanarrative is subsumed and crystalized into an individualized struggle.
As Rambo ferries the mercenaries to their destination, their leader, a former Australian Special Air Service soldier, makes vulgarized restatements of Rambo’s philosophical noninterventionism. Of the missionaries, the man says, “You stick your noble nose into other people’s business, you get fucked up or you get dead…Now it’s God squatters. They come over here, spouting all that shit, and expect the whole world to work like their fucking neighborhood. Well, it doesn’t. So, they send in the devil to do God’s work.” When they arrive, the man tells Rambo to wait with the boat, refusing to let him join their operation. The mercenaries make their way to the village, and gag at the aftermath of the slaughter. SPDC soldiers arrive and proceed to massacre villager captives; outnumbered, the mercenaries stand by. Rambo emerges from the jungle, armed only with a bow and arrow, and kills every hostile.
The mercenaries have had enough and decide to abort the mission. Rambo stops them and argues, “There isn’t one of us that doesn’t want to be somewhere else. But this is what we do. Who we are. Live for nothing or die for something. Your call.” He is essentially making the same argument that Sarah made to persuade him to transport the missionaries, coupled with his “full circle” recognition of his identity as a soldier. Though he wishes to be “somewhere else”, this somewhere lies forever out of grasp, on an infinitely receding horizon. He, like our nation, must be animated with a mission to survive. The question thus becomes: What is our mission? What do we live for? Perhaps a more incisive question remains: How often do we get to die for something, for a Cause?
Rambo leads the mercenaries on the rescue. In the SPDC camp, the commanding general occupies himself by raping a young boy. The mercenaries free all of the missionaries save for Sarah, and abandon her and Rambo. Rambo liberates Sarah, and lures a group of soldiers into activating a British Tallboy bomb dropped during World War Two, the unexploded ordnance of empire. The mercenaries and missionaries are recaptured, but just as they are to be executed, Rambo hijacks a Jeep mounted with an M2 Browning machinegun. He opens fire, and alongside this onslaught the mercenaries and the Karen Rebels, late to the festivities, destroy the SPDC detachment. Sarah’s holier-than-thou husband kills one of the SPDC soldiers. As the abyss looks back yet again, Rambo savagely disembowels the commanding general. Sarah and her husband survey the carnage that their decision to intervene wrought, and Sarah cries.
As Rambo closes, the scene parallels the beginning of First Blood. Rambo, wearing the same standard-issue jacket and duffel bag that he had all of those long years ago, walks along the road in Bowie, Arizona. He comes upon a bucolic ranch. The mailbox reads ‘R. Rambo.’ As he gazes at the ranch, we can imagine his thoughts; this is that “somewhere else”, that “homecoming” that he was denied. This is everything he killed for, everything he would have died for, everything he was never permitted to enjoy or to belong to. He looks up the road, perhaps contemplating whether he should just keep going. He turns back toward the ranch. Twenty-six years after Vietnam took him, Rambo goes home.
Rambo: Last Blood
When Rambo returned home, he found a family. His sister died of cancer and her abusive husband abandoned their daughter, Gabrielle. Rambo essentially raised his niece as his own daughter. They remained on the ranch, where Rambo lives a quiet life training horses. Photos adorn the walls of his home, featuring a young Rambo with his Medal of Honor and an older Rambo raising his niece. Just by looking at these photos, one would assume he had led a happy, normal life. He has excavated a massive tunnel system for reasons that seem tied to his experiences in Vietnam. Walking inside them, he is haunted by a flashback. The sounds of gunfire and terror rage, while two voiceovers play. President Johnson declares, “Make no mistake about it. We are going to win.” General Westmoreland asserts, speaking of the Viet Cong, “I can assure you that, militarily, this strategy will not succeed.”
Gabrielle has grown up to become a beautiful young woman, about to go off to college. Riding on horseback with Rambo, she asks him, “Did you know what you wanted to do at my age?” He immediately replies, “Yeah, I wanted to be a soldier. Even before your age.” Later on, Rambo allows her to throw a small party in his tunnels. She receives a phone call, and appears troubled. Her friend Gizelle, living in Mexico, has tracked down Gabrielle’s father. After the party ends, Gabrielle approaches Rambo, and says, “I need to go to Mexico.” He instantly replies, “Why would you want to do that?” She explains that she needs to ask her father why he abandoned them. The rest of their conversation:
“Because he’s not a good man.”
“…my world is a lot different from yours.”
“No, it’s not, it’s worse.”
“No, it’s not. People don’t just act bad for no reason.”
“…you don’t know how bad it is. I know how black a man’s heart can be. There’s nothing good out there, Gabrielle.”
“Well, maybe he’s changed.”
“Men like that don’t change. It only gets worse…I haven’t changed. I’m just trying to keep a lid on it, every day.”
“…you can’t protect me forever…You said you did what you thought was right and left at seventeen, and nobody stopped you.”
“I wish they had.”
Rambo is taken aback at Gabrielle’s naïveté, asking her why on earth she would ever want to visit the war-torn hellhole of Mexico. He knows exactly what lies in wait in the outer darkness of the Global South, that “there’s nothing good out there.” He knows that men are not good, that we are all evil, varying only by degree. He knows that there is often no reason whatsoever for evil, for the blackness of a man’s heart. He sees her unspoiled innocence and wants nothing more than to protect it at all costs, to keep her flame from ever being extinguished. Rambo earlier stated that he had always wanted to be a soldier, but here acknowledges that he wishes somebody had stopped him. Who else could he have been? He also concedes that despite appearances, he has not changed. He has merely developed a heightened ability to control the pain that festers within.
He makes her promise him that she will not go, but, of course, she disobeys him. Dressed in a cute outfit replete with a mini skirt, she drives across the border into Mexico; we feel an apprehension that she is traveling like a lamb to slaughter, a modern-day Karin of The Virgin Spring. As narcos check her out on the street, she knocks on her friend Gizelle’s door. Gizelle is Untermensch envy personified, an accurate representation of the resentment that Third World barbarism feels for the Western civilization it is now conquering. If they cannot have what we have, they at least wish to despoil us of it. Each word that the woman speaks drips with hatred, but she continues to lull Gabrielle into thinking she is only jesting. One of the very first things she asks Gabrielle is if she is still a virgin; the extreme significance of this will be appreciated later. As the gorgeous Gabrielle sits in the putrid squalor of the apartment, Gizelle says, “You know I can feel you looking around…Life down here, it ain’t easy, my sister. You do what you can.” Gabrielle replies, “Yeah, I get it.” She doesn’t, though. She can’t. Gizelle stares lustfully at Gabrielle’s gold bracelet.
Gizelle takes Gabrielle to see her father. She asks him why he left, and he heartlessly tells her that he did so “because one day, I looked at your mother and you, and realized you both didn’t mean anything to me anymore…I wasted time being with you and her. And she fucking dies and leaves me with you, who I never wanted. Any more questions? You don’t need to come back.” While Gabrielle is speaking to her father, Gizelle waits in the car and talks excitedly on the phone; she hurriedly hangs up when Gabrielle runs back to the car in tears. She just wants to go home, but Gizelle insists on taking her to a nightclub to have a few drinks and “calm down.” In the club, as a narco hits on Gabrielle, he drugs her drink. Gizelle has sold her into sexual slavery.
Gizelle calls the Rambo home and claims that Gabrielle never returned after visiting her father. Rambo, knowing better than to trust any Mexican so-called ‘law enforcement’, vows to find her, departing at once for the border. Rambo interrogates Gabrielle’s father, telling him, “All of this shit is because of you. I should’ve broken your fucking neck ten years ago.” As Gizelle walks to her apartment, she finds Rambo waiting. She tells him that they were separated at the nightclub, and Rambo observes that she is wearing Gabrielle’s bracelet. As it was her mother’s, he knows she would never have given it away. Threatening her with his Bowie knife, he forces her to take him to the club. He spits, “You sold her out. She was your friend.”
At the club, Gizelle points out the narco that drugged Gabrielle. Rambo lets her go, and follows the man out to his car, torturing him for information. When he obtains Gabrielle’s location, he uncharacteristically goes in half-cocked, unprepared for the cartel’s sophisticated lookout system. Rambo is surrounded, and the cartel leader seizes his wallet, including his picture of Gabrielle, observing, “This whore’s in our house.” Dozens of the men brutally beat Rambo to within an inch of his life. He continues to gasp, “Let her go.” One of the men suggest that they throw him in acid, but the leader lowers himself to speak to Rambo. Holding Gabrielle’s photo in front of his face, he says:
“Juanito Rambo…these girls mean nothing to me or my customers. In my world, they’re nothing. They’re not people. They’re just- they’re just things…I would not have paid attention to her. But now I will. Because you coming here has made it very bad for her. We would have just trained her, used her, and sold her. But now we’re gonna make an example of her. I’m gonna let you live. You’re gonna think about this every fucking day of your fucking life. Until you can’t think anymore.”
The leader orders his brother to “put your mark on him and his little bitch too. Make it deep.” The man gouges an ‘X’ into Rambo’s cheek, and then enters the brothel to do the same to Gabrielle. She is dragged out in front of a hallway full of bloody and battered sex slaves, and he slices the ‘X’ into her cheek. For four long, uninterrupted days, Gabrielle’s life is one of monumental despair. She is injected with heroin over and over again, raped daily by dozens of men, and beaten into submission. The cartel’s kapo of the sex slaves order the women to “just do your job, all night. If it’s forty, fifty men, too bad. You don’t stop until you’re told to.”
Last Blood calls attention to the power and demoniac inhumanity of the Mexican cartels, but barely scratches the surface. They practice Aztec cruelty, operating human slaughterhouses in which they cut still-living victims’ faces off and dismember them, keeping them alive until only a torso and head remain. They capture the butchery on video, and torment victims’ families with it. Over ninety-eight percent of murders in Mexico are never investigated; the probability of a crime actually being reported, investigated, and resolved is roughly one percent. These cartels control the Mexican economy and the state, buying politicians openly; allegations abound that the past several Mexican Presidents have been on the cartel payroll. These cartels control the international drug trade, constituting what might be the largest criminal organizations ever created. The Mexican people are so demoralized that they elected a President whose strategy is appeasement; they’ve given up fighting. The Mexican state is outgunned, its monopoly on violence long since evaporated. We have a failed state on our southern border, and we are kidding ourselves if we say that these outfits do not already operate untrammeled in the alien communities across our nation.
Rambo, unable to think of anything but “how scared she must be, what she’s going through”, finally recovers and tracks his niece down. Armed with a hammer, he attacks the brothel. Though they are able to, the other slaves are so paralyzed by the terror their tormentors have inflicted that they refuse to leave. He comes upon a nearly unconscious Gabrielle, crumpled on a filthy and soiled mattress, her battered arms dotted with crude injections. He gently places her in the passenger seat of his truck, and leaves for Arizona. He is taking her home. In the car, they converse. He gives her back her mother’s bracelet, and they reminisce about riding their horses. He desperately tries to keep her from shutting her eyes.
“You came back.”
“I’m gonna get you back home.”
“No. You didn’t do anything. We’re gonna go home, and everything’s gonna be good. It’s gonna be all right…You got so much life left. You got so many things you gotta do. So many things. When I came home a long time ago, you were so young. I was lost. I was a lost man. And then I met you. And I saw something that I didn’t think I’d ever see anymore: good in this world. Some innocence. And I had a family that I never thought I’d ever have. And raising you, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. And I thank you for that. Thank you. You’re like the-”
A single tear falls from her cheek, and her hand slips from his arm. From what must be a mixture of drugs and the exhaustion from a lifetime of anguish sustained in only four days’ time, Gabrielle dies. Like the daughter I never had. These are the words her death prevented him from uttering. Rambo sobs, “Oh, God…I’m sorry…why not me?” Rambo drives on after a time, coming to a pathetic barbed-wire fence. A sign is posted that announces this pitiful excuse for a fence as the United States Border, reading both “Do Not Enter” and “No Entrar.” Visibly furious, Rambo crashes through in his truck. This is, along with the opening scene of Sicario: Day of the Soldado, a profound statement on our vulnerability. In that film, jihadists enter our nation through the Mexican border and proceed to suicide bomb a grocery supercenter.
Rambo, blaming himself, stands vigil at Gabrielle’s grave. Her grave is marked with her high school graduation photo, in which she beams, full of promise, as well as flowers and a wooden cross signed by all of her friends. Some of the messages include ‘Paz’, ‘Never Forget’, ‘Less Pain’, and ‘Love’. These messages belie something a bit darker than the benevolence of mourning friends, and that is their naïveté, again juxtaposed with Rambo’s world-weariness. Their world is one of peace and love; the reality of rape, murder, and extreme grief is incomprehensible to such people. Perhaps this is for the best.
Rambo declares, “There’s nothing for me here. I’m just gonna move around. Like always.” Before he begins his wandering, however, he plans for and sets in motion his last mission. He booby-traps his land and tunnels, readies his weapons, and prepares for doomsday.
Rambo is driven now purely by vengeance. As he explains:
“How is it ever done? When I look at something so innocent, and I see that face never have life in it again, how is it ever done? I want revenge. I want them to know that death is coming, and there’s nothing they can do to stop it. I want them to feel our grief and know that’s the last thing they will ever feel.”
Rambo returns to Mexico and decapitates the man who sliced his and Gabrielle’s faces, pinning her photo to his heart with a knife. He drops the narco’s head out of the window of his car as he speeds back across the border for home. Having murdered the cartel leader’s brother, Rambo watches and waits for his targets to bring the fight to him. They were all dead the moment they laid eyes on Gabrielle. Rambo frees his horses to ensure that there is no collateral damage.
The cartel, armed with advanced military weaponry (so much for “gun control”) enters Arizona through one of their numerous tunnels, hassle-free. They swarm Rambo’s ranch as he stands at Gabrielle’s grave. In some of his most ingenious and macabre methods yet, Rambo systematically kills every single one of his slain niece’s torturers, saving the leader for last. He tells the man, “I want you to feel my rage, my hate, when I reach into your chest and rip out your heart! Like you did mine.” His prey cornered, stuck to the barn door with knives, Rambo cuts his heart out, tearing the still-beating organ from his chest and throwing it to the ground. “This is what it feels like.”
During his bloody revenge, Rambo detonated his tunnels, destroying his ranch. His happy home has been turned into a smoldering infernal Hell, littered with corpses. This mirrors the transformation of our nation writ large, our agrarian idyll shattered and transformed into a Third World ghetto, equal parts slum and strip mall. It is important that we are only shown two polarities in this film, Eden and Gehenna, Heaven and Hell. Outside the hearth of Rambo’s picturesque ranch, there lies only a satanic night, the agonizing chaos of Mexico that slowly reconquers our Southwest as Aztlán. Aside from the brief intrusion of Gabrielle’s friends, no outer world seems to exist outside of Rambo’s nest besides the world of death. Are these worlds interdependent? Can one exist without the other? It is thus even more overwhelming to leave the quiet, joyful isolation of the ranch to be cast into the deep end of the lurch. This shows us in the starkest terms yet that when we leave the safety of the land that we love, we should expect nothing but pain. This lesson is easily extrapolated and applied to our foreign policy as a whole. What do we expect when we allow ourselves to be deceived and manipulated into wandering where there be dragons?
As the film ends, the wounded Rambo makes his way to his porch and rocks in his chair. In a voiceover, he delivers a wonderful coda:
“I’ve lived in a world of death. I tried to come home, but I never really arrived. A part of my mind and soul got lost along the way. But my heart was still here, where I was born. Where I would defend to the end the only family I’ve ever known. The only home I’ve ever known. All the ones I’ve loved are now ghosts. But I will fight to keep their memories alive forever.”
Rambo encapsulates his simultaneous estrangement and inextricability from the nation that he loves. While he was away on its behalf and upon his return, he was permanently separated from it, unable to ever fully come home. Despite this separation, his heart nonetheless remained tethered to “the only home I’ve ever known.” All of the pain that he has suffered serves as a testamentary paean to all of the loved ones he has lost. America is a fine place and worth fighting for, worth killing for, worth dying for; if for nothing else, for the memories of those who have been stolen from us. This final Rambo film closes in a montage of scenes from each installment in the series, reinforcing the aforementioned call to never forget. The last image we are left with is Rambo on horseback, riding into the distance.
Which way, America?
Part 1 of America Astray may be viewed here.