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The Deer Hunter (1978)

An emotionally charged story of friendship, The Deer Hunter investigates the effects of Vietnam War on a small town community from a common-man perspective. Its narrative can be divided into three parts, with three central figures. The first part (close to an hour) portrays the social life in Clariton in general and the relationship of the main characters in particular. In the extended wedding scene and the following hunting session, the links that bind its inhabitants and the relational bonds linking each of the main roles are brought forth fairly in details. By taking so much time, the later emotional shocks will be more effective and believable. In the second part (in Vietnam), the inner strength and determination of Michael (Robert De Niro) is revealed. While Nick (Christopher Walken) and Steven (John Savage) visibly break down under the abuse and torture in captivity, Michael refuses to give up. In fact he grows stronger. By the final segment, the tragic core is now Nick, lost both in location and mind. For all that friendship which binds the three together in post-conflict trauma, they prove unable to save one another. This is a tale of missed opportunity and regret, where all see the possibility of returning intact slip through their fingers.

At the very heart of The Deer Hunter is Russian roulette, even though an inaccurate historical fact, it is an interesting metaphor operating on several levels. Superficially it relates to the joy that these working men feel when they go hunting. Beyond that there is the similar state of mind that both activities possess. Each is highly ritualized, a path where the mind and thoughts contemplate and concentrate on death. However, when the hunters become the hunted, the facade of their sport becomes apparent. That is why Michael is not able to shoot the deer in the second hunting scene. The mindless act of Russian roulette represents war as an entity whose brutality and psychologically devastating consequences are irreparable.

Technically The Deer Hunter is fairly ordinary. In my opinion, half of the film s success is due to the believable performances. De Niro in the scenes in which Mike returns home a hero, and feels compelled to avoid his welcome are tremendous. He seems blank by the struggle and distanced from old friends. Walken is also effective in his transformation to a psychologically ruined personality. In detailing how war destroys individuals, relationships and communities, the film is disturbing, sad, and successful.


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