rambo

“Rambo and Anne are kindred spirits.”

(Previously, Part 1: Intro, Part 2: Rambo, Part 3: Anne)

I never expected a manhunt to interrogate the fundamental assumptions of Western ontology. Nor did I expect a Victorian Bildungsroman to present a unified field theory of inchoate gender equality. But they both did, and they were both ungodly huge blockbusters. They rowed against the current without making a splash and people—regular, airport readers—willingly came along for the ride. Rambo and Anne perforated the sublimated psychological assumptions of their times, with a pilfered machine gun in one hand and wild outbursts of emotion and fancy in the other. They exposed the illicit illusions that their contemporary contexts swallowed whole.

These two books are more than books. They’re cultural icons, institutions of meaning and emotional power. However dissonant their component features, when approached from a low resolution, their impact, animus, and silhouette are oh-so-similar.

First, both Rambo and Anne are razzed about their appearance by the sentinels of proper decorum, a cop for the masculine and a busybody for the feminine. In fact, both are specifically mocked for their hair, which identifies them as outsiders. Rambo’s frizzy locks are unkempt from a life thumbing along the highway; Anne’s red hair is a symbolic mark of the superabundance of her spirit. It’s instantly apparent that neither belongs.

Second, both Anne and Rambo start off as vagabond loners, cut off from the normal precincts of society as an orphan and a PTSD-addled Vietnam vet. Both face off against entrenched patriarchy and toxic gender assumptions. Neither measure up to the rigid expectations of their gender and class, yet they are both stereotypes, expected to enrage and gall the “good” people of Avonlea and Hope. They paradoxically act counter to expectations and thus surprise while playing their role to the hilt. Anne thrashes against conformity while simultaneously craving it; Rambo rends authority in the hopes of an honourable end, in the hopes of finding a masculine power he can submit to with a clear conscience. Deep down, they both want to stop fighting and join society.

Third, both have seen shit and suffered true loss, which gives them a unique perspective compared to the soft-bellied village-dwellers who dare to judge Rambo and Anne with a provincial, untested ethic predicated on rut and regularity. Experience beyond the pale allows them to respond with alacrity and skill in times of duress while others, raised on the teat of complacency, dither and dawdle to doom.

However dissonant their component features, when approached from a low resolution, their impact, animus, and silhouette are oh-so-similar.

When the shit hits the fan, Rambo takes a helicopter out with a thrown stone after leaping off a cliff and breaking his fall on a goddamn spruce tree and Anne instantly dumps a gallon of puke-medicine down the gullet of a croupy kid who’s drowning in their own lung-sauce, saving the kid’s life.

Finally, both are instigators, catalysts for the spiritual and emotional development of the people they encounter. What’s more, they both undergo fundamental changes through the insights they accrue at the cost of their own soul. After a deadly ascent through ever-increasing danger, Rambo unlocks Teasle’s self-awareness and, by shattering the limits of his own superhuman mental endurance, discovers his true place in the void. (The narrative structure is to continually load the protagonist with impossible challenges on top of insane emotional stakes to measure their capacity to cling to rigid beliefs and, hopefully, escape them. This is a picture-perfect illustration of the Zen method of cultivating satori.)

Anne, on the other hand, is the midwife for Marilla’s emotional rebirth while, simultaneously, she is shepherded into society through Marilla’s stern advocacy of the pretense of Victorian etiquette, even though, deep down, Marilla agrees with Anne’s saucy judgements!

… both are instigators, catalysts for the spiritual and emotional development of the people they encounter.

By the end of the book, Marilla mourns the woman Anne’s become—and I’m mourning right along with her—because the fugitive magic of girl-Anne is gone, forever folded into the countenance of a more-regular young woman, and therefore hidden beneath the surface. A private wonder instead of a public one.

Rambo and Anne are kindred spirits.

The parallels between them are manifold, and stretch from the superficial to the illicitly deep. First Blood and Anne of Green Gables are two sides of the same coin, thrilling emotional experiences that promote liberation and enlightenment.

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Perhaps that sounds a little extreme.

Go straight to the horse’s mouth. Check out this direct explication of Marilla’s sublimated emotional labyrinth. Here’s the day Anne goes away to Queen’s Academy in Charlottetown:

The day finally came when Anne must go to town. She and Matthew drove in one fine September morning, after a tearful parting with Diana and an untearful practical one—on Marilla’s side at least—with Marilla. But when Anne had gone Diana dried her tears and went to a beach picnic at White Sands with some of her Carmody cousins, where she contrived to enjoy herself tolerably well; while Marilla plunged fiercely into unnecessary work and kept at it all day long with the bitterest kind of a heart-ache—the ache that burns and gnaws and cannot wash itself away in ready tears. But that night, when Marilla went to bed, acutely miserably conscious that the little gable room at the end of the hall was untenanted by any vivid young life and unstirred by any soft breathing, she buried her face in her pillow, and wept for her girl in a passion of sobs that appalled her when she grew calm enough to reflect how very wicked it must be to ‘take on’ so about a sinful fellow creature.

I mean, fuck. Not only does Marilla batten down the hatches when she’s saying goodbye to Anne, but then, when she does allow herself to weep at the departure of her surrogate daughter, her hyperactive repression insinuates itself with the force of a Halifax nor’easter. In no uncertain terms, Marilla’s ethos demands she be made to feel guilty for having human emotions. That’s messed up! And yet, somehow, Anne reaches through this fractal cataract of emotional denial and cuts Marilla’s Gordian knot like an umbilical cord. Before Anne came around, Marilla existed in a grey space, her emotions locked up tight, without even a crack to seep through. Perversely, self-flagellation is a step forward for Marilla, because it’s one notch more human than categorical denial.

Rambo’s the exact same kind of catalyst, for himself and his demon-dads Teasle and Trautman. Check out the last few pages of the novel.

Here, Rambo’s pushed to the absolute limit. He’s been hunted for days, broken his ribs and leg, lost pints of blood, and he’s struggling in one last-ditch effort to end it all on the battlefield. He shoots Teasle:

Then death took [Rambo] over, but it was not at all the stupefying sleep, bottomless and murky, that he had expected. It was more like what he had expected from the dynamite, but coming from his head instead of his stomach, and he could not understand why it should be like that, and it frightened him. Then since it was the total of what remained, he let it happen, went with it, erupted free through the back of his head and his skull, catapulted through the sky, through myriad spectra, onward outward, forever dazzling, brilliant, and he thought if he kept on like this for long enough he might be wrong and see God after all.

This was very unexpected and bizarre and just seems like Rambo’s trippin’, until we get this dialogue half a page later:

Teasle: “What was that explosion I heard? It sounded like another gas station.”

Trautman: “Me. I guess it was me. I took his head off with this shotgun.”

Teasle: “What’s it like for you?”

Trautman: “Better than when I knew he was in pain.”

Teasle: “Yes.”

Trautman pumped the empty shell from the shotgun, and Teasle watched its wide arc glistening through the air. He thought about Anna [his wife] again, and she still did not interest him. He thought about his house he had fixed up in the hills, the cats there, and none of that interested him either. He thought about the kid [Rambo], and flooded with love for him, and just a second before the empty shell would have completed its arc to the ground, he relaxed, accepted peacefully. And was dead.

The End.

*

Both novels cradle the essence of literature, the act of connecting to another human being through the semi-permeable membrane of words.

Both of these books are about liberation and transcendence, pushing beyond the boundaries of social conditioning and conventional conceptual assumptions to confront the intrinsic, essential truths about reality. Those big, monumental monosyllables: Truth, Self, God, Death, and Love.

The core of it all—the connective tissue that binds these works, the wonder they bestow, and their ability to affect me—hinges on love.

It’s all about love.

Rambo is about hard men learning to love the other by recognizing the necessary co-instantiation of identity in other people and the corresponding mutual interdependence of all reality.

Both novels cradle the essence of literature, the act of connecting to another human being through the semi-permeable membrane of words.

Anne is about learning to love yourself, your true self, and balancing it against social norms, and through the self: your lot in life, the people who support you, and the whole damn world that you are lucky enough to perceive.

It’s the same damn message, from two different directions, 100 years apart, in a story about a verbose proto-feminist and a taciturn hyper-masculine killer. And it’s beautiful.

Because it’s all about love, and love is real.

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I want to take this opportunity to thank all of the contributors to this month of non-literary madness: Stephen Thomas, Nora Decter, Kait Gies, Brandon Varner, Miriam Breslow, Laura McPhee-Browne, Sarah Feldbloom, Naben Ruthnum, and Chuck Tingle. I couldn’t have done this without you. And a huge thanks to everyone at The Puritan for all the hard work behind the scenes, you’ve made a wonderful home for these words.

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Cian Cruise lives in Toronto. His work has appeared in McSweeney’s, Playboy, Hazlitt, Maisonneuve, Broken Pencil, THIS Magazine, and Little Brother, among others. More can be found on his website ciancruise.com.

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