Vietnam War in Film: Oliver Stone’s Platoon

Topics: Vietnam War, My Lai Massacre, Martin Luther King, Jr. Pages: 5 (1787 words) Published: March 22, 2010

The Vietnam War has often been characterized as the greatest American foreign policy debacle ever. American public support eroded in front of the television set nightly. The longest war in our history, divided Americans more drastically than any other event since the Civil War. After the exhausting toll on the American psyche, there was no doubt that by the wars end the nation was ready to put the Vietnam saga behind them. Still the story had to be told, and that would be up to Hollywood. Arguably one of the most compelling Vietnam movies is Oliver Stone’s Platoon (1986), which depicts his experience during the war. Unlike many previous Vietnam War films, Platoon is not simplistic involving a single one dimensional character, predictable, or characterized by a familiar plot line. Rather it is a story that is creatively told, contains intense memorable imagery, and presents the human condition. Finally, Platoon serves as a nightmarish vehicle into the brutal experience of the Vietnam Hell. Historical Context and Platoon

As American involvement in Vietnam dragged on through the late 1960’s and the body count spiraled upward, morale sagged in many sectors of the U.S. military. Many units suffered from internal tensions, the crippling and terrifying environment, drug use, unwillingness to fight, and the sense that the war was for nothing. Also, there was no doubt that battlefield atrocities were being committed by Americans, especially after the Mai Lai massacre. Finally, even more chilling and demoralizing was the practice of fragging. Fragging is military slang for the killing or wounding of a soldier or officer deliberately. Debate about their seriousness and frequency of incidents continues to rage, but there is no question that it became a concern in the latter years of American involvement in Vietnam . Platoon examines these sobering experiences, in an artful yet disturbing fashion . Platoon captures the internal deterioration of one particular unit witnessed through Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen) a young naive soldier, who serves as Stone’s alter ego. During Stone’s tour in Vietnam, he quickly learned that that platoons were plagued by factionalism and disunity Other main characters (possibly based on real people) include sergeant Barnes played by Tom Berenger and sergeant Elias, William Dafoe. Barnes was the malevolent sergeant whose scarred face reflected a survivor, a consummate soldier, but a broken spirit. His toughness was legendary throughout the platoon, and was elevated even more after reenlisting from a gunshot wound to the face. Barnes survival and savvy appeal to the poor white Budweiser drinking redneck troops of the platoon. Elias on the other hand is based on a 23 year old, Jim Morrison type like figure. Elias’s minions were the dopers, stoned whites, ex-hippie draftees, and blacks. The allegiance by the troops to these two leaders results in the platoon becoming divided and less united as the movie plays out. In dramatic fashion the two sergeants became metaphors for the good and evil, the animal and the human that exist within everyone.

Stone accurately portrays a jungle laced with booby traps, menacing insects, and an enemy that is elusive and hard to locate. In addition, the viewer cannot ignore the relentless violence that has been recaptured on screen. Not only to the body, but mind. The anxiety, fear, and the platoon’s inescapable despair. Consequently, the platoon terrorized by violence, senseless death, and infighting, breaks down after one of the soldiers, Manny, is found dead tied up and throat slit. As a result the men seek revenge on a tiny village that contains weapon caches and possible VC’s. This sets up for the one of the more memorable scenes as well as the turning point in the film. Stone takes the audience through the darkest possibilities of war, and what can happen to people when they go through a process of intense stress.

As the assault on the village...
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