Rewatching a classic….
I cannot say for certain when I first watched The Deer Hunter. I know for sure that it would have been on Betamax video cassette in the early eighties and, having watched it again now realise that my teenage mind would have missed many of the film’s brilliant nuances which I picked up on yesterday evening. It is a film worthy of a revisit, the plaudits are many and its leading actors cemented their places in American film history, and rightly so.
What struck me about the film this time around is that it is unquestionably more than just a story about Vietnam veterans. In fact, it could in many ways, be a story about you or I and the town or city in which we live. As someone who left their home town at a similar age to the characters in the film (albeit for a more peaceful reason) the basic premise of moving away and returning as a changed person as De Niro does struck a chord with me and made me look at the film in an altogether different light.
For those, who, like me, cannot remember much about the film other than the Russian roulette scenes then allow me to offer a brief synopsis:
The film centers around a group of Russian American steelworkers and a couple of girlfriends who live and work in the industrial heartland of Pittsburgh in 1967. It is a typical scene of young men, cut loose from the ties of their childhood, drinking beer and riding roughshod through the town and up into the mountains to hunt deer. We see the small town mentality of its residents, the comfort found in the solace of a beer glass for the older generation and the hope and optimism of an innocent youth soon to learn otherwise. But for three of the young men that carefree innocence is shattered in Vietnam, the young bridegroom whose wedding features prominently at the beginning has his legs amputated and his wife is left shattered by his return. De Niro loses trace of his best friend, Nick who is declared AWOL and lost amongst the opium dens and Russian roulette matches of deepest, darkest Saigon after fleeing capture by the North Vietnamese.
De Niro returns to the town but he no longer feels like one of its sons, the memories of his war are too fresh, the mountain air chills to the bone and South East Asia, for all of its wrongs has taken its hold and he returns to the madness of the evacuations, the bombings and the politics to seek out his absent friend.
He finds Nick, ravaged by drugs, and in a repeat of their roulette duel watches his friend blow his own brains out to the delight of the Vietnamese gamblers. De Niro returns to Pittsburgh with the coffin. The community is forever changed but the camaraderie remains and whilst the horrors of the war have cut deep he knows nothing can comfort him like that blanket of security only a home town can offer. Meryl Streep plays the sweetheart, she is in love with Nick but seeks comfort in De Niro’s character, Mike when she has lost all hope of his return. She is an attractive woman trapped in a dead end job with an alcoholic, abusive father and only the dream of a married future to comfort her.
As she and the others watch Nick’s body laid to rest you sense a turning of the tide. Their youthful summers are now over and with it comes the overwhelming sense of inevitability that these factory workers face becoming lifers in a perpetual cycle of working, drinking and hunting. Yet there also seems an almost welcoming acceptance, Mike has seen the colour of the grass on the other side and found it scorched and bloodied and wants no more of it. In the end, we all reach an age when the draw of our childhood home grows ever greater but for Mike it came thirty years too soon. War does that.
Categories: Retro Heaven