The Deer Hunter

The Deer Hunter

Video Cassette - 1983
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A group of steelworker pals from Pennsylvania begin with a hunting trip to the Alleghenie mountains to the lethal cauldron of Vietnam.
Publisher: Willowdale, Ont. : MCA Home Video, 1983.
Characteristics: 2 videocassettes (183 min.) :,sd., col.

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Mike Lofgren says it best:
What we get from The Deer Hunter is this: Vietnam is methodically decontextualized and depoliticized; Americans are portrayed as the innocent victims of treacherous, bestial “Orientals.” It was almost as if we hadn’t killed two million Vietnamese, pulverized their infrastructure, and poisoned the country for generations with 50,000 tons of Agent Orange. Even some American movie critics, generally a tame and studiously apolitical lot, protested this depiction. Why American soldiers went over there is unclear from the film, beyond the fact that the three protagonists dimly see it as a rite of manhood.

The movie is suffused with the notion of the wounded innocence of a valorized white working class fighting in a righteous (but otherwise undefined) cause. This is of course utter crap, given everything we know about the criminal machinations of Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger and the rest of our political masters. It was not as if the government that sent them to Vietnam (even while engineering the free trade and outsourcing what would turn their southwestern Pennsylvania home into a post-industrial wasteland) didn’t have their best interests in mind; no, it was all the fault of sadistic gooks getting them addicted to Russian roulette.

The major working class characters, unlike, say, Henry Fonda’s Tom Joad or Gary Cooper’s John Doe, are passive stereotypes who are completely un-self actualizing. There is no responsibility or moral agency in them at all, which is what allows them to shamble through their experiences in a depoliticized fog. That is why the climax of the film, the Russian roulette scene, evokes not pathos, as in Greek tragedy, but an admonitory shiver. Yes, it’s gruesome, but characters without complex and believable motivations fail to strike a chord of empathy.

One sees this even in the scenes not set in Vietnam. The Clairton, Pennsylvania, steel works where the protagonists toiled was a place that in the right hands could have evoked Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, or, more darkly, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, and informed us who was paying a double price in this country for its war policies and its economic policies. Instead, it appears that Cimino was merely interested in the grand, fiery tableau of the blast furnaces for the sake of his camera.

All this decontextualization is what makes the final scene, with the survivors singing “God bless America,” such a shameless manipulation that I am surprised a perceptive critic like Roger Ebert fell for it. After having the characters move zombie-like through a pointless gore-fest, to advert to such rank sentimentality — and there is no evidence Cimino was being archly ironic or slyly subversive — is the final insult. My own reaction to such a cheap emotional trick evokes the quote by Oscar Wilde, “One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing.”

l
Les_J
Dec 04, 2018

One of the greatest war drama movies, along with Apocalypse Now, Cross of Iron, Platoon, and Full Metal Jacket.
The Russian roulette scene inspired Megadeth's song "My Last Words" on the "Peace Sells...But Who's Buying" LP.

m
Maoisdead
Oct 06, 2017

This is a real classic about the Vietnam War and the brutality of war in general. Very realistic, showing how some American POWs were brutally treated by North Vietnamese Regulars. Gripping and extremely memorable performances by De Niro and Christopher Walken.

j
Jody85
Oct 03, 2017

When the fantasy of being a macho soldier meets reality of war and how that war shapes and twists them forever. A reality check. One of my all time favs. Right up there with Born on the 4th of July.

v
VonHafenstaaad
Oct 02, 2017

Cimino is a great director who takes his time in a long, careful first act before throwing his characters inside a terrifically tense, gut-wrenching second act that makes us deeply consider the tragic effects of war on veterans, with Walken and De Niro in spectacular performances.

r
RoyalJellyIII
Oct 02, 2017

Great movie. Character development is the most important aspect in this movie. At least one hour spent at the beginning of the movie to let us know the intertwining between each character. Makes the end all that more meaningful.

a
akirakato
Oct 02, 2017

Directed by Michael Cimino and released in 1978, this 183-minute Vietnum-war-time drama tells the story of a trio of Russian American steelworkers whose lives are changed forever after they fight in the Vietnam War.
One of the most talked-about sequences in the film is the Vietcong's use of Russian roulette with POWs.
These scenes were contrived since there were no documented cases of Russian roulette in the Vietnam War.
According to Associated Press reporter Peter Arnett, there was not a single recorded case of Russian roulette in its 20 years of war and the central metaphor of the movie is simply a bloody lie.
Despite a long-running film, the storyline seems to get confused because the scenes switch back and forth abruptly without a meaningful continuity.
After all, its editting is poor; so is directing.
Although its theme appears to be friendship, the story as a whole makes little sense just as the Vietnum war turned out to be a total failure for the States.

p
PDBurt
Mar 09, 2017

Fun to watch these actors when they were young. The first third, too long was young yahoos at steel mill, wedding and reception; a couple scenes where guys hit or brutalized their girlfriends while the girls smiled-weird; then a hunting trip drinking driving and arguing before a deer is shot. looks like a real death scene. Indicative of American society at the time.Fast forward suddenly to a grenade being thrown into a cellar of women and children- too abrupt scene change. Then the horror of a civil war on the other side of the world that the U.S. should not have been involved in. 58, 191 names of soldiers who died were on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall by 1983. Between 1 and 3 million people died, most of them Vietnamese. Boy, the U.S. really helped those Vietnamese, NOT! I moved to Canada in 1970 to protest this war, the draft and the policies of the U.S. government/military. Watching this movie just made me mad all over again. I off for a walk in the woods where live deer roam freely.

c
Calvacade
Nov 30, 2015

Intense movie about Vietnam, and it;s after effects on a group of smalltown Americans- a great American film.

n
naturalist
Jun 06, 2015

Roger Ebert' s review: . . . http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-deer-hunter-1979

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