Review: The Deer Hunter (1978)

deer

Hunting deer is not my thing!

Screenplay By: Deric Washburn
Directed By: Michael Cimino

Contrast is integral to The Deer Hunter. Visual cues are given to provide contrast and the story is a contrast in life. The opening hour of The Deer Hunter is almost idyllic in presentation. The residents of our Pennsylvania steel mill town live a hard life, but they live, deal with the world around them and manage to make the most of it. They hunt, they drink, they work, get married and have fun with friends and family along with the occasional squabble or bit of dirtiness.

Then comes the war, and the idyllic setting is changed to that of a horrific landscape. Death is everywhere, friends don’t know what to make of each other anymore, family doesn’t seem like an acceptable oasis anymore because they can’t understand your pain. Where do you turn, who do you go to, what do you do? The people you are in Vietnam trying to help only want to make a quick buck off of you, your friends might be dead, and your own people make you feel like a part of a meat grinder.

Finally the war is over for you, at least in the actuality of fighting it. But, the war isn’t over at all, because the war has damaged you. You are physically changed, emotionally hurt and you aren’t able to fully cope with what has happened to you. You can return home, but that means people questioning you and being there for you even when you just want to be by yourself. If you are physically handicapped it means returning home to a different life, to one where the people that counted on you now have to support you and you just can’t handle that. Or, the war has changed you so much that you can’t return home, you seek any sort of solace that will make you forget. But, nothing allows you to forget so you turn to something that was done against you in captivity, not because you revel in it, but because it allows you to remain dead inside and maybe, just maybe find a way to make it all end.

There have been a few times in my life when I have been uncomfortable in my own skin, but I can’t imagine what it must be like to be uncomfortable in your own skin like Steven, Nick and Mike. To have everything taken away from you physically and emotionally. The greatest ability we have as human beings is the ability to live, and losing that ability because you permanently feel uncomfortable in your own skin is a frightening notion. Yet it has happened throughout the years to countless soldiers in countless wars. If ever there was an anti-war movie that isn’t preachy but is anti-war in quiet, subtle ways, The Deer Hunter is such a movie.

I understand that there was a lot of hoopla when The Deer Hunter was released over the validity of the Russian roulette scenes and the way the Vietnamese are treated in the movie. Yes, the Russian roulette games were a fabrication on Cimino’s point, but that shouldn’t matter. The roulette games serve as the tension and stress of the war made manifest. The Deer Hunter doesn’t exist to be a physical chronicle of the war, it exists to show in some form what happened to many of the American soldiers who went to Vietnam. As for the Vietnamese point, I just don’t get it. It’s not necessary for every facet of a group to be shown in a movie and history has shown us that the Vietnamese were guilty of some pretty heinous acts during the war. It’s not as if the movie is labeling all the Vietnamese as horrendous, just the ones who propagate the roulette games.

The contrasts I spoke of earlier are only possible because of an all around strong cast, Robert De Niro is great as usual, but he is surrounded by Christopher Walken in a haunting performance, Meryl Streep in a fragile one, as well as great turns from John Cazale, John Savage and others. However, there are a few points where The Deer Hunter falters. First and foremost would be the inclusion of real Vietnam War footage. The inclusion of the footage isn’t a problem, but it doesn’t mesh with the movie footage, so every time actual footage pops up it’s too obvious that it is different from the movie footage and took me out of the reality of the movie. My only other complaint was when Mike comes back to see Linda the first time, the dialogue during that scene was a bit clunky in trying to make sure we understood what was going on between them.

The Deer Hunter is a powerful film, and its power comes in the way it contrasts the before and after of a soldier’s life. The movie looks great, with sweeping vistas and a dirty jungle captured on camera. More than any other movie I have recently watched The Deer Hunter is an emotional movie. What I mean by that is that The Deer Hunter is a well crafted film, but it isn’t the craft of the film that pulls you in or turns you away. You either emotionally connect with The Deer Hunter and are drawn in to the story, or you fail to feel the emotion of the story and can easily turn away. I was pulled in emotionally and remained to witness a great movie, one that is certainly worth the time to check out.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

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4 responses to “Review: The Deer Hunter (1978)

  1. The friendship between the three central characters, as well as their shared association with the men from their small hometown, is truthful and realistic in a way that most guys will find impossible to resist. Check out my review when you can!

  2. There is a lot of truth to the relationships in the film. However, the more I think about it the more I am disturbed by the falseness of the Vietnamese sections of the film.

  3. Bill, It is not documentary.

  4. I never said it was a documentary, so I don’t see the angle of your comment.

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