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The Deer Hunter


August1991

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I first saw The Deer Hunter in a cinema in Montreal having travelled from Quebec City specifically to see it. I recall that a man stood up during the key scene of the Vietnamese/Russian roulette and shouted in English, "You're all being taken in!" I gather he meant that Vietnamese were not so cruel as the movie portrayed. Later, I recall going back to a friend's apartment in Montreal and declaring "Je me sens comme si une autobus vient de me passer dessus.... " The movie was "heavy".

Now, watching it a second time much later, I was offended by the First Act's Russian references. Why did Cimino choose this, or not get it right? Russian Americans in the 1960s would not sing a Soviet World War II song during a wedding. The long depiction of the wedding was unrealistic. To me, the first criteria of theatre is the suspension of disbelief. The movie sounded false, and this leads to its greatest fault. In fact, it equally criticized America, Vietnam and China. But given the man's shout above, the movie came under criticsm because it was viewed as racist against the Chinese/Vietnamese. (The movie didn't really make the distinction.) But what of its criticsm of America? At the time, few people noted it. IMV, Americans have created in America a good, viable, sustainable, civilized society. China and Vietnam have not. In Cimino's world, America was worse than Ho Chi Minh, Mao Tse Tung, Vietnam or China. Watching a movie like The Deer Hunter, I feel that Hollywood enjoys America's freedoms but hates America.

If you have never seen The Deer Hunter, rent it and watch it even if it is long and boring. (Be patient.) The two hunting scenes of a buck in Pennsylvania/Ohio and the scenes with Robert de Niro and Meryl Streep make the movie, IMHO. If you like raw violence and tension, few movies can beat the scenes on the Vietnamese river. At the time, American college students renamed it "The Beer Hunter" and used six packs, with one can shaken before opening.

Edited by August1991
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Well, I never got the impression that Cimino hates America. I think he was making a point that the American Dream was just that - a dream.

The characters were all just average joe's/jane's living in squalor in Steeltown. Yet each of them was a remarkably unique person (for good or ill) It was a superbly done picture of humanity. None of them had any power or influence over their position or the situations they found themselves in beyond what they could immediately affect. They were America's peasants - thus the Russian references. As an aside, It did not occur to me that they were of Russian heritage. I thought they were of some other Eastern European slavic heritage.

The whole first half of the movie sets that up. There are only two characters that stand out amongst the others as somewhat more self-aware; The DeNiro character and the barkeep. The others are just drifting along...the females being particularly powerless.

Then they are off to war, mostly just to get out of steeltown apparently. No great patriotic fervor involved, except from the barkeep.

Then nastiness happens to them. DeNiro is the only one who makes any rational effort to change their fate. He succeeds initially, but in the long run doesn't much change things.

It didn't strike me that Cimino was portraying the Vietnamese as terrible people. I certainly thought he portrayed the guards as terrible people. But I also got the impression that the guards were victims of circumstance just as much as the good guys were.

At the end of the movie, everythings pretty much the same as when they left. The death, maiming, and personal heroics didn't change anything.

HiHo HiHo its off to work they go.

The real shocker was the singing of God Bless America. Now that is entirely out of place and entirely over my head. I still do not understand what the hell they put that in there for. After the third time I saw the movie I realized why: I'm not an American, silly. If I was it would probably make perfect sense.

A great movie.

Edited by Peter F
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  • 1 month later...
Well, I never got the impression that Cimino hates America. I think he was making a point that the American Dream was just that - a dream.

The characters were all just average joe's/jane's living in squalor in Steeltown. Yet each of them was a remarkably unique person (for good or ill) It was a superbly done picture of humanity. None of them had any power or influence over their position or the situations they found themselves in beyond what they could immediately affect.

...

The real shocker was the singing of God Bless America. Now that is entirely out of place and entirely over my head. I still do not understand what the hell they put that in there for. After the third time I saw the movie I realized why: I'm not an American, silly. If I was it would probably make perfect sense.

I suggest you watch "The Best Years of Our Lives" and then reconsider your opinion of "The Deer Hunter". The 1960s may have been good for America but they were bad for Hollywood. "The Best Years of Our Lives" had a better grasp of irony and a better understanding of America.
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My memory of this film squares more with Peter F.

That is, the film was more of an amoral depiction of individuals caught in horrible circumstances that were not created by them.

DeNiro is the single character who appears to grow through the film, though not in a good way. Much like Adam trying to return to eden, De Niro doesn't find America the same as before he left. But he is the one who changed.

Although I prefer Apocalypse Now, this film does have a few scenes that are far better than anything AN has to offer. I don't know if there's anything deep that can be said about the Vietnam War. Apocalypse Now definitely had some particular comments to make, and The Deer Hunter certainly showed us the raw power of the worst of it but ultimately, you won't feel that either film has made you understand anything.

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  • 2 weeks later...
Well, I never got the impression that Cimino hates America. I think he was making a point that the American Dream was just that - a dream.

...

A great movie.

Great movie?

So, the American Dream is just a dream. But what of the Chinese/Vietnamese Dream? If Cimino portrays the American Dream as just that, a dream, then how does Cimino portray the Chinese/Vietnamese Dream?

----

The Deer Hunter is typical of modern Hollywood. It is America-centric.

I think rather that we should all start to hold everyone - Vietnamese, Iranians, Saudis, Chinese - to the same standards that we hold Americans.

After all, according to the UN, we all have the same human rights.

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But what of the Chinese/Vietnamese Dream? If Cimino portrays the American Dream as just that, a dream, then how does Cimino portray the Chinese/Vietnamese Dream?

Good gracious...

I suppose we could say Cimino portrays the Vietnamese peasantry as a pretty barbaric and bloodthirsty bunch.

Anything more you require from a moviemaker? Perhaps some sort of statement that Cimino is not now nor has ever been a member of the Communist party?

What more do you want? The depiction of America as the greatest thing since sliced bread? Fair and Balanced reporting?

Edited by Peter F
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Great movie?

So, the American Dream is just a dream. But what of the Chinese/Vietnamese Dream? If Cimino portrays the American Dream as just that, a dream, then how does Cimino portray the Chinese/Vietnamese Dream?

----

The Deer Hunter is typical of modern Hollywood. It is America-centric.

I think rather that we should all start to hold everyone - Vietnamese, Iranians, Saudis, Chinese - to the same standards that we hold Americans.

After all, according to the UN, we all have the same human rights.

Ah yes - but even in the UN - some of us have more of those rights than others.

As for the movie - I liked it and in the end I actually realized it was simply entertainment.

A moment in time and nothing to get too stirred up about.

Merry Christmas

Borg

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I think rather that we should all start to hold everyone - Vietnamese, Iranians, Saudis, Chinese - to the same standards that we hold Americans.

Oh what a good idea!

Now lets see if I'm understanding you correctly. Are you saying that the story should have been told from the Vietnamese POV? If so then all I can say is what a bonehead idea. This story was about a bunch of Americans who were friends and shared mutually traumatic experiences and a loss of innocence, not about some Vietnamese friends who had fun torturing some Americans. Is that all that difficult to understand?

If the story were to be told from all POV's then it would'nt be the same story at all, not to mention the fact that it would probably run about 30+ hours in length. Do not make blanket judgements about all the movies made either. For example, just watch Clint Eastwoods fantastic movie "Letters From Iwo Jima" and you'll see an example of the opposite POV being shown.

If that isn't what you were trying to express then I apologize for the assumption and have to tell you that I'm not really sure what you are trying to say.

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