An in-depth examination of the ways in which the U.S. Vietnam War impacts and disrupts the lives of people in a small industrial town in Pennsylvania.
At the start of The Deer Hunter, we hear a beautiful melody that sounds too content, too happy, and too sweet to possibly be the theme to a film about the horrors of the Vietnam War. However, the film only briefly touches on the horrors of Vietnam. It focuses on the effect that war has on those who fight in it and those who remain at home, and how those relationship dynamics change. By the end of the film, you realize that the theme to The Deer Hunter is melancholic, and that it perfectly set the tone for the film.
Director Michael Cimino and Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond did a phenomenal job at capturing Steel Town America. I mean, I would know, I grew up in near a steel town. In fact, I grew up near one of the steel towns that were used as Clairton, Pennsylvania: Youngstown, Ohio. Apparently, the fact that Cimino filmed parts of The Deer Hunter in Youngstown was something that I knew but somehow forgot. So, imagine my surprise when I’m watching the film going “Huh, they captured the Midwest steel town really well. Why does that all look familiar?”
Speaking of Zsigmond’s cinematography, he did a phenomenal job with the entire film. He captured the town perfectly. He captured the mountains beautifully. And, he perfectly showcased Vietnam. The entire film is gorgeous, even the brutally violent segments.
The acting in this film is top notch, particularly Robert DeNiro and Christopher Walken. Each actor gives genuine performances. I was blown away by Walken’s performance in this film because when I think of Walken, I don’t necessarily associate him with serious roles, which is a result of the roles that he’s chosen in my own lifetime. But, his performance as Nick, a man who suffers from stress-induced amnesia as a result of the trauma he has gone through, is heartbreaking. DeNiro plays the main character of Michael, who seemingly returns from the war in better shape than his two friends. The trauma that he’s experienced just manifests itself in a different way, is all.
The Russian Roulette scenes in this film were some of the best ways to build suspense that I have ever seen. There’s no music in any of the scenes. It’s just the noises of the men yelling and the outside world. That lack of music makes an already suspenseful “game” that much tenser.
The last thing I want to touch on about The Deer Hunter is the fact that it is not particularly important that this film take place during the Vietnam War. This story could take place during any war, and it wouldn’t be changed all that much. The Deer Hunter is a story about PTSD. It’s a story about the loved ones left at home and how they cope. It’s a story about how the human brain finds different ways to cope with one of the worst things a person can ever go through.
Although, the irony of the group of friends singing “God Bless America” at the aftermath of Nick’s funeral, his death being caused by the trauma he suffered from a war that he and his country shouldn’t have been fighting in, is not lost on me.