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The Poetry of Violence: Red Dawn (2012)

The remake of Red Dawn truly is a war movie for the Call of Duty generation, too preoccupied with the spectacle of bloodshed to contemplate its consequences. In fact, considering its willingness to snuff out the lives of multiple playable characters in various horrific ways (immolation, radiation, etc.), the blockbuster video game franchise actually does a better job of depicting the brutal, ugly nature of warfare. Red Dawn features brief flashes of enlightenment–the two “North Korean” (*cough* Chinese *cough*) soldiers who sneak off for a romantic rendezvous add a surprising and welcome touch of humanity to the otherwise faceless enemy–but, for the most part, the villains are little more than paper targets; the Wolverines (untrained teenagers, mind you) needn’t fret over the moral implications of mowing them down or blowing them up by the dozen. Casualties on both sides of the conflict are clean and seemingly painless; you’d be forgiven for not realizing that a character had died.

That is, until Chris Hemsworth takes a bullet to the head.

It happens shortly after the film’s explosive climax, as the Wolverines celebrate their first significant victory. With the aid of Jeffrey Dean Morgan and his small band of Marines, they have successfully compromised the foreign invaders’ communications network. Hemsworth has settled his score with the ruthless Captain Cho, the man who executed his father. Josh Peck has proven himself a loyal and capable comrade, finally earning his brother’s approval and respect.

“How about that beer?” Hemsworth asks the younger man, acknowledging him as an equal.

“Where’s yours?” Peck asks.

“She took it,” Hemsworth replies, glancing at his token love interest.

Peck nods knowingly. “Then why don’t you go get it?”

With a dopey, lovable grin, Hemsworth stands, starts down the hall, and…

…and then the sniper’s bullet shatters his skull, as easily as it shattered the window. Like a marionette suddenly liberated from its strings, our hero collapses, silent and motionless. He never even feels the cold, dusty embrace of the filthy safe house floor. The girl screams his name, but as the deafening gunfire eats away at their cover, Peck realizes that this is no time for sentimentality. The Wolverines need to evacuate before they’re overrun; they’ll mourn their losses later.

I’m going to fight. It’s easier for me,  I’ve done it before. The rest of you are going to have a tougher choice. I’m not going to sell it. It’s too ugly for that.

Hemsworth delivers this rousing speech near the end of Red Dawn’s first act, but it’s not until Peck repeats it in the denouement–after we witness the utter obliteration of the last lingering remnants of his innocence, after a single gunshot abruptly cuts his Happy Ending short–that we can honestly believe it. Sure, most of the preceding action is typical dumb, loud, overly-enthusiastic, naively-patriotic, Rambo-flavored fluff… but the instant of Hemsworth demise feels unsettlingly real. And, regardless of the filmmaker’s intent, the artificiality of the Hollywood violence surrounding it makes that glimmer of realism all the more terrifying.

[Originally written December 2, 2012.]

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