The vagaries of our lotto system have given us an interesting juxtaposition these past few goes-around. Notably all three have been about war in one way or another. Our last entry’s movie, Braveheart, was a thrilling epic that pulls you into the cause of undeniably heroic protagonist. This rousing medieval battle epic is sandwiched between the previous Best Years of Our Lives, which takes a much more sober view of the effects of war on the people fighting, and our similarly themed current film.
The Deer Hunter concerns a close knit group of friends in a blue collar steel mill town during the Vietnam War. Three of them enlist together, one immediately after his wedding. They celebrate the wedding and enjoy the serenity of one last hunting trip in the mountains before departing. The war proves to be horrific, especially when the men are held as POWs by sadistic guerrilla captors. Later, they adjust to the physical and psychological traumas they received while serving.
This film really comes in three parts – the life of the trio in their hometown before deployment, their time in Vietnam, and the situations they face following the war and being sent home. Cutting between these very different eras was a bit jarring as a viewer, but upon further reflection I think the decision in editing places the viewer in such an emotional state on purpose – to help us empathize with the men themselves. Transitioning from military life and war to civilian life (and vice versa) IS jarring and destabilizing. The juxtaposition of the different experiences of our protagonists helps those of us watching relate to what they are going through.
This film features stellar performances by Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken and Meryl Streep. Walken, in the role of Nick, won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. He plays a quiet, introspective person who is never far away from De Niro’s character Mike. They take trips to the woods often to hunt deer, exist in nature, and enjoy the quiet, with Nick especially enjoying being in the presence of the trees. When they face the hell of war later in Saigon and other parts of Vietnam, especially as POWs, Mike reminds Nick of this. The memory of that peace is not easily held onto, though, in the midst of brutal torture and violence. The men can barely hold on to the memory of their former lives. Continue reading