“Lone Survivor” by Peter Berg Film Analysis

Words: 1718
Topic: Art & Design


One of the reasons why people enjoy watching movies, in the first place, is that, while exposed to the on-screen action, they are able to gain a number of insights into the essence of the surrounding social reality. In its turn, this can be explained by the fact that just about any film contains clues, as to what are the main principles of how human societies actually function.

In this paper, I will explore the validity of the above-stated at length, while elaborating on what can be considered the sociological significance of some of the most prominent scenes in the 2013 film Lone survivor (directed by Peter Berg).

Film Analysis

Based upon a true story, the film’s plot revolves are the story of four US Navy SEALs (Marcus Luttrell, Michael Murphy, Danny Dietz and Matthew Axelson), who were sent on the mission of assassinating one of the Taliban’s most notorious leaders (Ahmad Shah) in present-day Afghanistan.

Despite the fact that this mission, on their part, turned out a fiasco, the mentioned characters nevertheless showed the whole world that, due to being thoroughly professional and utterly courageous, American soldiers indeed have what it takes to be able to impose ‘democracy’ just about anywhere on the planet – this can be deemed as the film’s foremost message.

Nevertheless, even though Lone survivor does promote the implicit idea that it is fully justifiable to fight, on behalf of Uncle Sam, some of the film’s scenes leave only a few doubts, as to the fact that the current ‘struggle for democracy’, led by the U.S., is far from being considered admirable.

Moreover, many of these scenes can also be referred to, as such that imply that is it being only the matter of time, before American policy-makers realize the sheer futility of their belief that the world can indeed be made a better place, by the mean of increasing the presence of the U.S. military personnel in the Third World countries.

The discursive soundness of this suggestion can be well illustrated, in regards to the film’s initial scene, which exposes viewers to what are the routine-realities of one’s military service overseas (00.08.48 – 00.11.06).

In this scene, the mentioned characters are shown discussing what can be considered the best wedding-gift, communicating with their relatives in the U.S. via Internet and competing with each other (in sports). As this scene implies, the members of the U.S. foreign-based military personnel are being concerned with just about anything, except for one thing – contemplating on what justifies their presence in those countries, where they happened to be stationed.

What it means is that, in the discursive sense of this word, the film’s main characters can be best described as ‘mercenaries’ – emotionally and cognitively detached from what may account for the would-be consequences of their high professionalism in killing people. In its turn, this makes it possible for us to discuss this specific theme, within the sociological framework of “people fighting or struggling for scarce resources”, mentioned in the assignment.

The reason for this is quite apparent – when assessed from the sociological perspective, one’s willingness to kill ‘bad guys’ overseas, while risking its life, presupposes the following: a) that the main incentive, which drives a person to embark on this course of action, is the prospect of receiving a monetary reward, b) that this state of affairs is only possible in the country, which despite being considered the world’s richest, experiences the lack of resources.

The scene’s yet another implication is that the profession of a Navy SEAL especially appeals to those individuals, who are being primarily driven by the ‘instinct for domination’, at the expense of keeping the rest of their existential instincts suppressed.

In its turn, this suggests that, contrary to the provisions of social egalitarianism, there are many objective preconditions for the practical deployments of the idea of ‘equality’ to continue proving counterproductive. Apparently, it is namely the behavior-defining subtleties of one’s DNA, which account for the concerned individual’s actual identity, and not the rationale-driven workings of his or her conscious psyche.

Lone survivor contains another interesting scene, which points out to the fact that, contrary to what the advocates of political correctness believe, the de facto dynamics in the arena of international politics suggest the conceptual legitimacy of the specifically Darwinian (Realist) outlook on the significance of the so-called ‘international law’.

In this scene, after having ended up with their location being compromised by three Afghani civilians (an old man and three boys), Marcus, Michael, Danny and Matthew contemplate on whether these people should be killed (as unwanted witnesses), or set free (00.35.42 – 00.47.12).

What is especially notable about how these characters were discussing the subject matter at stake, is that neither of them seriously considered referring to the code of combat ethics (rules of engagement), as being capable of clarifying what would account for the best course of action, in respect to the situation.

The SEALs’ eventual decision not to kill these civilians appears to have been strictly utilitarian, “Marcus: What are we gonna do? We gonna kill them (civilians)? Huh?.. They get found, then what?.. It’s going to be out there for the whole world. CNN, okay? ‘Seals kill kids’” (00.42.04).

The sociological significance of this scene is quite clear – the Constructivist idea that, as opposed to what it used to be the case centuries ago, the contemporary geopolitical developments in the world are concerned with the notion of ‘progress’ (rather than with the notion of ‘survival/domination’), is conceptually fallacious. Apparently, the actual purpose of just about any country’s existence never ceased being strictly Realist (Darwinian):

  1. political/economic expansion,
  2. maintenance of a political stability within,
  3. destabilization of competing states.

In light of the above-stated, ‘international law’ is meant to serve only one function – providing what currently happened to be the most powerful countries with the formal justification to proceed with exploiting the world’s natural/human resources in the essentially unopposed manner.

This is exactly the reason why, as it was shown in the movie, the well-meaning but utterly meaningless belief that there is a room for ‘law’ in the time of war, can be referred to as anything, but as such that is being acknowledgeable of what are the actual realities of war.

Therefore, the continual existence of a number of different international organizations (such as the U.N. or OSCE), which are expected to contribute to the maintenance of peace in the world, simply does not make any sense, whatsoever (with the exception of how it makes possible for the affiliated hordes of bureaucrats to enjoy a good-living). It is understood, of course, that this validates namely the ‘Darwinian’ sociological perspective, which is based upon the idea that there can be no end to the ongoing struggle for power and resources among people, as such that enables human civilization to remain on the path socio-cultural/technological progress, in the first place.

The third scene, which can be well brought up, within the context of how we go about validating the paper’s initial thesis, is the one that features badly wounded Marcus being aided by the Pashtun village’s inhabitants – something that enabled the mentioned character to save his life (01.33.29 – 01.42.46).

Given the fact that Lone survivor is meant to glorify American soldiers, on the account of their presumed courageousness, this scene’s actual purpose is to confirm that there are indeed many good reasons for them to continue spreading ‘democracy’, even in the world’s most remote parts.

After all, as the mentioned scene implies, the Afghani society is far from being considered ‘perceptually homogeneous’ – it consists of those who support the Taliban, on one hand, and of those who oppose the organization’s religious fanatics, on the other.

Thus, the very fact that, as it can be seen in the movie, many ordinary Afghanis do not have anything against Americans, is supposed to be seen as yet an additional indication that it is indeed fully appropriate, on the part of American soldiers, to continue being stationed in Afghanistan. The reason for this is that these soldiers’ presence in Afghanistan is presumed to benefit the Afghani society rather substantially, in the sense of bringing it closer to the ideals of ‘democracy’.

Nevertheless, the scene’s closer analysis reveals that the reason for Pashtun villagers to decide in favor of helping Marcus, in the first place, did not have anything to do with these people’s love of America. They did it solely on the account of Taliban-guerillas having violated the Pashtun ritualistic custom of providing a superb treatment to those, whom Pashtuns decided to consider ‘guests’.

In the scene’s episode, where Marcus is about to have his head cut off by a Taliban-insurgent, his newly found Pashtun friend steps in with the AK-74 in his hands and says (to Taliban-bandits), “This is my guest. Leave our village” (01.38.18).

What it implies is that, the assumption that the Afghani can be divided on those who support ‘democracy’, on one hand, and those religious fanatics that do not, on the other, is utterly erroneous. The reason for this obvious – as the mentioned scene suggests, it is thoroughly natural for the Afghani to exist in the state of a perpetual tribal-war with each other, regardless of what happened to be the specifics of their political affiliation.

Thus, the scene’s actual significance is best discussed from the “people interacting based scripts” perspective – it was namely due to the Pashtun people’s tribal sense of honor having been insulted by the Taliban, that they decided to help Marcus, while going as far as taking part in the ensued shootout on his behalf.

This, of course, implies that, contrary to what the country’s top-officials would like us to believe, there can be no any ‘democracy-related’ reason for American soldiers to be stationed in Afghanistan. The actual purpose of their presence there is to undermine the inner stability of America’s main geopolitical competitors – Russia and China.


I believe that the earlier provided line of argumentation; in regards to what can be considered the sociological significance of the selected scenes in Lone survivor, is fully consistent with the paper’s initial thesis. Apparently, it is indeed possible to think of just about any movie, as such that is being potentially capable of helping people to expand their intellectual horizons on a number of different sociological issues.


Berg, P. (Director). (2013). Lone survivor [Motion picture]. United States: Universal Pictures.