Platoon (1986)

R   |    |  Drama, War

Platoon (1986) Poster

A young soldier in Vietnam faces a moral crisis when confronted with the horrors of war and the duality of man.

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  • Willem Dafoe in Platoon (1986)
  • Willem Dafoe in Platoon (1986)
  • Platoon (1986)
  • Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe in Platoon (1986)
  • Charlie Sheen in Platoon (1986)
  • Willem Dafoe in Platoon (1986)

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17 July 2002 | rex-10
| Not just surface Violence (see book Tropic Thunder, Red Lightning)
I may be over analyzing the film. It certainly appears at first glance that other than the deer appearing after the battle, and the talk of soul in Chris's/Charlie Sheen's final narration there is very little symbolism in the film… basically every thing is what it is.

However, I believe that even if Mr. Stone didn't intend it, the fact that Chris picks up an AK-47 to kill SSGT Barnes is important. There are weapons (and bodies) all over the battlefield but he picks up the AK-47. It must be noted that the Armalite Rifle or M-16 as it became known had become the weapon of the ARVN forces and the US troops (and is still the primary issue for US forces today.) This weapon then, represents the `establishment' or the status quo power. The silhouette of an AK-47 on the other hand, had come to represent revolution the whole world over. Chris's use of the AK-47 was not to hide the fact that Barnes was killed by an M-16, as Bergerud's book points out, ‘friendly fire' casualties were a fact of life in Vietnam.

When I combine the integrated `potheads' dancing to ‘tracks of my tears,' I wonder if the tears are related to the civil rights struggle back home. Taylor's `I volunteered' speech when he gives his reasons that it shouldn't just be black kids and poor kids doing the ‘s**t jobs' also add to my belief that the AK-47 is relevant as a taking up the opposition to fight the establishment. Barnes also represented the `lifer' or career military and from there one can extrapolate that to include the Pentagon establishment who tenaciously clung to the belief in some kind of victory in spite of evidence that the population rejected the Saigon government could be had. By killing Barnes, it seems Oliver Stone might shed a different light on the comments Chris Taylor/Charlie Sheen makes at after the rampage at the village and the divisiveness it brought the platoon: `…I can't believe we're fighting each other when we should be fighting them!' In this view the ‘Them' could be the establishment that created a world in which a Vietnam could take place. His platitudes at the end don't dissuade me from seeing Chris Taylor (as Oliver Stone) having undergone a personal sea change. `We didn't fight the enemy we fought ourselves…'

Stone could very well express these sentiments, `The war is over for me now… but it will always be there the rest of my days… as I am sure Elias will be fighting with Barnes for what Rhah called the possession of my soul... Those of us who did make it have an obligation to build again and try with what's left of our lives to find a goodness and meaning to this life.' `…To teach others what we know…'

This obligation statement is almost a verbatim reprise of the defeated Japanese soldiers in the movie `The Burmese Harp' (1956.) They say the same thing about a duty to go home and rebuild after the war, though there isn't a statement accepting or even acknowledging any wrongdoing. Thirty years separate these films. I would not exactly say they claim ‘war is senseless,' though they both overwhelm the viewer with the senseless waste of lives caused by war.

Other points of note: when we see the APC (armored personnel carrier) roll up behind the patrol looking for survivors after the battle, there is a Nazi flag on the top of it (it is very close to the top of the screen and hard to make out, and is not the typical hakenkruz on the white circle in a red field, but the one that was meant to express a ‘pan-Aryanism' with the Scandinavian people by having a red field with a black cross outlined by a white cross and the swastika in the crux.) Is Stone implying a fascist nature to this war?

Secondly, we briefly see the men who are the despicable `ear collectors' I had read about in a 1981 book called `Nam.' They would string the ears on their dog-tag necklace as a show of bravado of how many ‘confirmed kills' they had. (Though there are some interesting perspectives brought out by ‘Nam' much of that book reads like war crimes…)

The shot of the lynched soldier was a strange inclusion, considering the Blacks marching against the war at home carrying a banner that stated, `The VC never called me a nigger'. I wondered why Stone did that. Furthermore, except for a glimpse at a suspected VC in the tunnel shot by Elias, we never actually see a VC in the film. The person shot by Elias is not attacking. We see their tunnels, the arms caches, their posts, campsites and bunkers. It's always only hints of them. The only Vietnamese we see attacking are NVA regulars. Is this saying Stone does not blame the popular Front forces for attacks on US troops?

`Gook' is also used through out the film, as it was in Vietnam. This word entered the GI lexicon through the Korean War. ‘Han Gook' is Korean for Korea/Korean. The Korean's would see the American's and say `Mi Gook' which is Korean for America/American. The GI's thought the Koreans were saying they were ‘gooks' Me Gook. The carrying of the word from Korea to Vietnam shows the tendency of latent dehumanizing racism ‘they all look alike'…

Speaking of Human, David Lynch, the director of The Elephant Man (1980) was furious that Stone used Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings since he had used it in his film and hoped when people heard it they would reflect on it. He must have sensed that people are now more likely to associate Adagio with the ‘Elias crucified' scene. However, there is another connection to the Elephant Man. Think of Taylor stopping the gang rape. The GI's respond, `she's an animal!' to which Chris shouts back, `She's a HUMAN BEING, man… a human being! This is an echo of John Hurt's line in Elephant Man, `I am not an animal! I am a human being! man!'

There are a few more interesting points worth comment, but I will close by mentioning the suicide attack. Stone himself was the actor playing the Battalion Commander in the bunker that suffered the suicide attack. It is interesting that In response to the suicide attack, Captain Harris, the Company Commander calls in an air strike right on his own position. In other words it is as though he answered the suicide attack with a suicide attack. This seems analogous to the continuing inflow of US troops to Vietnam as a suicide. I will leave it off here in hope that someone else discusses the intentional inflicting of wounds on oneself as a means to be sent home.

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