Above all else, America is dedicated to the proposition that “what happened to other countries isn’t going to happen to us.” As such, our variations on the tragic hero struggle to buck free of their core restrictions, often with startling results.
John Rambo (the movie hero and cultural icon, inseparable from Sly Stallone) is an example of one such effort — The Reverse Tragic Hero.
The Reverse Tragic Hero begins with his fatal flaw in full expression — things have already gotten pretty much as bad as they could possibly get.
In First Blood, we are introduced to Rambo, a homeless drifter traumatized torture and war, who, in his madness, is shunned and driven into the wilderness, where he kills his own countrymen in mock retribution. We begin at the end of Ajax.
Then, though making a critical choice, the reverse tragic hero absolves himself of his flaw and is revived and exalted by his suffering. Everything is made okay.
Rambo II gives us one of the greatest cultural question of the Twentieth Century when Rambo is sent back to Vietnam by the U.S. government.
“Do we get to win this time?”
“Well, that’s up to you, Rambo.”
Through the power of storytelling, Rambo transforms from an aimless madman to a patriotic hero. Polynices rises from the grave to claim his inheritance.
And only once he has perfected himself does he meet with bitter irony.
In Rambo III, to fight the Russians, he teams up with Osama Bin Laden.