Why Rambo, not Die Hard, is the ultimate Christmas movie

Forget Die Hard - Rambo is the real Christmas film. Death and rebirth, crucifixion and Santa hats, this is a nativity play with M16 rifles.

rambo first blood poster

Do you remember hearing Darth Vader say, “Luke, I am your father”? Do you recall watching the film Shazaam? Have you ever seen a painting of Henry VIII eating a chicken leg? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are suffering from the Mandela effect. But don’t worry – you’re not alone. Thousands share your false memories about dialogue never spoken, paintings never painted, and films never made. Some sufferers maintain their memories are genuine – it’s the rest of us who are wrong – and others that these recollections are artefacts of universes passing through one another.

Whatever the reason, we all have a Mandela belief, and I discovered mine recently. I had set out to prove that Rambo: First Blood was a better Christmas film than Die Hard – only to find there is no such film as Rambo: First Blood. The 1982 action film in which Sylvester Stallone stars as John Rambo, congressional medal of honour winner, former green beret and all-around war hero – is simply titled First Blood. This came as a shock, similar to returning to Rocky only to find it is and always had been named Punch Night or something. But things got stranger still because my facetious intent to intervene in the “is Die Hard a Christmas film?” debate was upended by First Blood. It’s a genuine Christmas film.

rambo first blood christmas

Our protagonist, John Rambo, has quested to find one of his former brothers in arms. He, and we, are saddened when his comrade’s widow reports he has long since died from cancer, probably because of exposure to Agent Orange. A dejected Rambo trundles toward the small town of Hope, billed as the “gateway to Holidayland”. Smalltown cop Sheriff Will Teasle spots Rambo and takes umbrage to the cut of his jib.

“You know, wearing that flag on that jacket, looking the way you do, you’re asking for trouble around here, friend”, Teasle warns. He takes Rambo into his squad car, and our naive hero asks for somewhere to eat. “There’s a diner thirty miles up the highway”, comes the response – there’s no room at the inn. Teasle drives our hero beyond the city limits before abandoning him. Then the heavens open up, and when it rains, it pours. The sodden veteran marches back toward Hope, prompting Teasle to U-turn and arrest him for vagrancy and resisting arrest. A storm is coming.

rambo first blood christmas

The police station is adorned with festive decorations. Rambo is bundled past a sash reading “Merry Christmas”. A gang of officers then begin to take from Rambo his dog tag, knife, and dignity. He is forced to the nude before being hosed down and beaten. Next, his arms are pinned behind his back as the officers attempt to shave him. The stress position and imposing blade remind Rambo of his wartime trauma. His mind flashes back to his imprisonment – he is seen strung up on a crucifix and tortured by his Vietnamese captors. In a moment, he bursts from the cop’s grip and sends them to the floor with a flurry of punches and kicks. The tables have been overturned in this den of robbers.

The chase is on. Rambo commandeers a dirt bike with the Sheriff in hot pursuit by car. Our man is followed into the forest – as his bike nimbly navigates the thicket, Teasle crashes through the landscape in his saloon car. Police rush to the scene with everything they’ve got – men, dogs and helicopters – to put Rambo down.

One impetuous officer begins to fire his rifle at the unarmed fugitive. Rambo leaps from a gorge to evade the fire, only to find the shots continue to bounce around him on the ground. Now clad in sackcloth of his own making, our hero takes up a rock as a David before hurling it toward the gunman. The assailant is thrown from the chopper to his death – there was no lethal intent behind the throw – but the result was all the same. He, without sin, cast the first stone.

Despite Rambo’s appeals, the police refuse to accept that their comrade’s death was accidental and pursue him in a rage. But in turn, each officer is immobilised by non-lethal means until Rambo takes Teasle by surprise. He advises the frightened officer to abandon his pursuit before releasing him to slip away into the woods.

But there can be no going back now. Teasle summons the National Guard, and a brigade of reserve army soldiers is dispatched. Armed with assault rifles and rocket launchers, they are ready and eager to deploy maximum force. “Whatever possessed God in Heaven to make a man like Rambo? Teasle laments.” Enter Colonel Samuel Trautman, Rambo’s mentor: “I’ve come to get my boy”. He wants the Guard to withdraw, allowing Rambo to surrender on his own accord later. Trautman, whose name means “divine being”, is trying to save his son. But his intervention is for nought, and soon the soldiers are upon their quarry. At the entrance to a mine, Rambo is surrounded. After unleashing a hail of gunfire, his pursuers fire a rocket at his position. Rambo is entombed underground by the furious blast and assumed dead.

rambo tunnel

But after traversing the labyrinth of underground tunnels, Rambo emerges to rejoin the land of the living. He returns to the town and begins his assault on Hope. By bomb and gun, he sets about raising the place to the ground. This isn’t a killing spree; his righteous indignation is unleashed on the infrastructure. Though he does come close to a mortal sin when Teasle crosses his path, he is talked down by the timely arrival of Trautman, who convinces his erstwhile pupil to surrender. Rambo agrees and submits to his hunters. Hope survives.

Now consider the Die Hard argument: it’s set at Christmas. On the other hand, Rambo is a nativity play with M16 rifles. It could only get more Christmassy if John Rambo was immaculately conceived and rode into town on a donkey. It’s got death and rebirth, forgiveness and crucifixion, and Rambo even wears Santa’s sack as he skirts about the woods giving presents (arguably not) to his assailants. So, this Christmas, don’t let that old habit Die Hard back on the TV; get First Blood on instead.

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