It had been ten years since Vietnam and I had very much forgotten much of it over time. I wandered into the theater in early 1979 not knowing any better. Just sounded interesting, the criteria most folks use to decide which films they choose to see on a Saturday night. In four hours it all came back in a vicious rush that left me stunned and silent in my seat for a very long time after the credits. I shuffled out of the theater in a daze and was non functional for a fairly long time. I could never bring myself to see it again.
At some point in the 80s, I actually purchased the video tape and it sat in a bookcase until the era of DVD, and I threw the tape away unwatched and got the DVD and never watched it. It just sat there collecting dust in mute testimony to things of the past left undisturbed. Tonight there was no one home but me and while channel surfing I happened upon it again on a cable channel. Uncut and no commercials. I guessed it was time to see it again after almost 30 years. I will probably regret it.
The purpose of film as an art form is to draw the viewer into the story as a virtual participant rather than an observer. Most stories allow some voluntary contact and easy emergence. The Deer Hunter draws you in and doesn’t let you go, and when it gets done with you you’re changed. For those that were steeped in Vietnam, it is an unwelcome change. It dredges up things best left alone. But once the process starts, it fixes you and you can’t escape. There is nowhere to hide.
The film itself has little to do with narrative war, but the horrendous atrocities and nightmare images are some of the most brutal and graphic depictions of war in film history. It is more about the impact of war on human relations. The Deer Hunter views Vietnam from a common-man perspective. The film relentlessly catapults the viewer straight into the lives of the people involved, and you become part of their complexity. The emotional weight is staggering
The Deer Hunter is arguably one of the most emotionally wrenching film ever made and should be avoided as entertainment fodder. This kind of intensity skirts the ability of rational man to survive it. In detailing how war destroys individuals, relationships and communities, the story is overwhelmingly moving, and frighteningly disturbing. The carnage to humanity is too much to bear. The ironic rendition of “God Bless America” at the film’s tragic end is perhaps as close to a verdict as will ever be found in film.
5 Academy awards including Best Picture
Robert De Niro