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Film Critique on the Deer Hunter

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Essay title: Film Critique on the Deer Hunter

Since 1968, there have been at least 25 films made that portray the events of the Vietnam War. Historians have to ask themselves when watching these films, “Did the fictional character represent historical figures accurately? Is this how a soldier would react in this situation?” The point of view of the director of the film can change with simple alterations in camera angles. For example, a view from the ground of a battle seen can show how the innocent people had the war in their own backyards. The view from a helicopter can show Viet Cong firing rounds at American troops and the troops can’t tell the difference between the innocent and the enemy. The audience feels empathy and sympathy for the person from whose point of view the camera is showing. Historians compare the trueness of one film to the rest, and they have found that every film is at least somewhat fabricated, and at least somewhat true.

The 1978 film, The Deer Hunter, is about three blue-collar Pennsylvania factory workers who are drafted during the Vietnam War. This film won the Best Picture Oscar Award in 1979, so it was a good movie, however it didn’t have much to do with the actual war itself. The movie is three hours long and the first third of the movie takes place in Pennsylvania to introduce the situation. Only about 40 minutes of it took place in Vietnam. Only five minutes of that involved a war seen, 20 minutes of it took place in a POW camp where the characters are forced to play Russian roulette against each other, and the rest on the streets of Saigon. The last third of the movie involves Michael, played by Robert DeNiro, going back home alone to his old life. At the end, he goes back to Vietnam to try and recover Nick, played by Christopher Walken, they end up playing Russian roulette in a casino and Nick dies.

This was the first Vietnam film that wasn’t meant to defend America’s involvement in the war. In fact, it did just the opposite. It showed the atrocities that occurred in the war and caused many pro-war advocates to question whether or not we should have been there in the first place. However, it only showed atrocities done to American troops, but it didn’t show atrocities that American soldiers did to the Vietnamese. That didn’t happen until the release of the 1986 film, Platoon.

The whole film is based on a scene in the first third of the movie when Michael tells Nick that you need to kill a buck with one shot. This is foreshadowing for the Russian roulette that they were forced to play in the POW camp and at the end of the movie when Nick kills himself while playing roulette. When asked about the roulette scenes Michael Cimino, the director of the movie, said that he had only read about games of that nature “in a newspaper report (After the Fact, page 418).” But no journalist confirmed ever reporting such tactics in the prison camps. So one might suspect that these scenes, so powerful and the principle on which the film’s symbolism is based, may not have ever actually occurred in these camps, or at least so rarely that it could hardly be portrayed as the general nature of games that the POWs were forced to play.

The Deer Hunter does not focus much on the actual war in the field of battle. The director simply did not spend much of the movie in Vietnam. However, I thought the film did an excellent job of conveying how most veterans were not the same, mentally, physically, or both, when they returned home. Steven, played by John Savage, lost his legs in battle and preferred to reside in a veterans’ hospital until Michael dragged him home. Nick didn’t want to go back home because of his experiences in the prison camp left him emotionally and mentally scarred. Michael returned home closer to his old self than either of his friends. He returned in one piece and no physical injuries of any significance. He seemed somewhat reluctant to be social with a lot of people at first, but his personality hadn’t changed much.

Although the film wasn’t set in Vietnam for very long, for the short amount of time that it was, it had some powerful visualizations. One scene showed the absolute ruthlessness of the Viet Cong when one of the North Vietnamese guerillas tossed a grenade in a bunker full of South Vietnamese peasants, killing all of them. Another powerful image was the American POWs in the cage, awaiting certain death, some crying, Michael trying to figure out how to get out of the prison alive, the rats in the water, the sounds of cheering from above by the guards who were betting on who would die first in Russian roulette, and the sound of a click each time a prisoner pulled the trigger without

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