The Deer Hunter (1978) Movie Review
by Hossein Aghababa
Fantastic Picture of 70's America
The movie Deer Hunter
is a masterpiece drama and war story directed by Michael Cimino. The story portrays the life of a bunch of working-class people who are friends and enjoy deer hunting. The characters are Michael (Robert De Niro), Steven (John Savage), Nick (Christopher Walken), Stanley (John Cazale) who are Russian-American steel workers in a small town in Pennsylvania. Also, Meryl Streep as Linda plays the supporting role as the Nick's soon-to-be-wife.
The movie depicts the cultural and social atmosphere of America in late 60's and 70's. Bars, cars styles, music, people's fashion, and wedding ceremonies all attract the viewer's attention and makes a nostalgia for those who have lived in that period. The beautiful nature of woods where they hunted deer, the innocent sunset of ordinary people near the factory, and American pure traditions all remind the viewer of lovely time of past. Michael is pictured as a leader and the "big brother" of the others. It seems the others especially Nick see Michael as a shelter. In the first act of the movie, the wedding ceremony for Steven and Angela in a Russian orthodox cathedral is shown. Although the director tries to include some important events such as dialogue between Michael and the soldier in US Army's Special Forces uniform, the wedding part seems to be a tedious verbiage as it takes several minutes. Probably, the viewers were more patient some 30 years ago compared to the time of writing this review! Anyways, let's be reminded that everything was influenced in 70's by the outcomes of war between United States and Vietnam.
All of a sudden, the story jumps from the small town to the battle-field where the helicopters (the unforgettable symbols of Vietnam War) open fire to North Vietnamese forces. Michael, who is now a staff sergeant of the Army Special forces, bump into Nick and Steven. Unexpectedly, the "Three Musketeers" were captured by Vietnamese soldiers and held in a cage in shallow water. The prisoners were forced by the guards to play Russian roulette which is probably the most violent mental game in the world. The Russian roulette remains as an inseparable element to the end of the movie. Michael deceived the guards by asking them to load the revolvers with more bullets to electrify the game. However, he used the semi-fully loaded revolvers to kill the capturers and save his brothers. They were floating on a river when an American helicopter finds them and try to save them. Nick and Michael were able to get into helicopter whereas Steven fell back into water. At the moment, Michael jumps into water and saves Steven whose legs are broken now. This is the departure point where Nick and Michael will no longer see each other for a fairly long time. After a provisional return, Michael realizes that a person regularly sends money to paralyzed Steven from Saigon. Michael is now convinced that the person is Nick. As a result, Michael returns to Vietnam to find his friend. Unfortunately, Nick is found devastated and pretends that he does not remember Michael. Eventually, Michael tries to save him by getting involved in a Russian roulette where his opponent is Nick. Finally, the trigger is pulled by Nick and he kills himself. The heart-broken Michael brings back Nick's body to America for funeral as he had promised him to do so.
Many reviewers of this movie believe that after Nick was hospitalized in Saigon, he suffered from amnesia. Amazingly, these reviewers state that Nick was the person who sent the money to Steven which is an obvious paradox. Nick did not suffer from amnesia as he was just psychologically devastated. Anyways, these are not the significant points.
In this movie, a working-class people under the flag of capitalism put step in a battle with socialism. Actually, Nick is the symbol of a worker whose spirit was left behind in Vietnam. A worker needs money and does not care how he dies. He prefers a sudden death to a gradual one if there is no money and the Russian roulette is all about such a life. In fact, the whole playwright could be interpreted as a metonymy. That is, similar persons may belong to diverse territories. The movie, however, conservatively returns to its start point "America". Finally, the director as if he has an unaccomplished job, gathers all of his crew at the dining table to sing an American patriotic song;
"God Bless America:
While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
Let us swear allegiance to a land that's free,
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.
God bless America,
Land that I love.
Stand beside her, and guide her
Through the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans, white with foam
God bless America, My home sweet home
God bless America, My home sweet home."