The horrors of the Vietnam War found myriad expression in film and literature, whether as confrontational psychodrama in Apocalypse Now, or as high-concept science-fiction in The Forever War. Different facets of the period, as reflected in popular culture, could be assembled toward a fuller picture. Not only do we see images of combat, explorations of psychological trauma, but with First Blood, a logical extension of the abandonment narrative of a government toward soldiers in a strange time.
Before John Rambo was an American action icon, he was a vessel of counterculture and a voice for victims who couldn’t proclaim themselves as such. He is the ultimate American hero, and in the television series 24, we can see how this archetype might be mutated along partisan lines: Jack Bauer has been betrayed by his government countless times, but will regardless fight for what’s just, by any means necessary. The public might vilify him as a torturing, civil rights-breaking terrorist, but we know — he’s our only hope against the real terrorists.
One could read First Blood as an inversion of the monster-on-the-loose tale, one we’re familiar with in pulp science-fiction. In essence, Rambo is a government experiment running rampant in our backyard — a supersoldier
Taken as a whole, the Rambo series would work better thematically if First Blood was actually the last entry, so that this soldier could be built up to mythical, action movie levels, and then applied to a good ol’ boy town, where given a shift in context, he’s a monster. Of course,
We can say the Vietnam War was a mistake, or even that isn’t it interesting, the gap between what happened there and what was going on in America. But these conversations, as they carry into our modern wars, should never lose the human element, that there’s always a toll drilling straight down into the individual.