28 July 2008

The Deer Hunter, 1978

Filed under: Movies — ktismatics @ 1:35 pm

The reality that this movie occupies is captured in the parallel topographies of these two shots:



  1. seems like an excessively strong claim…


    Comment by dionysusstoned — 28 July 2008 @ 9:49 pm

  2. Well, DS, perhaps it’s because I’m an excessively strong person that I’m able to stake such claims, making them true by sheer force of will and so carving order out of cinematic chaos. In the infamous prison camp Russian Roulette scene, where it’s Christopher Walken’s turn but he can’t make himself pull the trigger, Robert DiNiro says “I’m going to will us out of here.” Then he exhorts Walken: “Put an empty round in that gun. Put an empty round in that gun” — as if this weren’t really a game of chance at all but a test of willpower.

    The topography of the first screen shot is medieval: God at the top, humanity at the bottom, the church as mediator between the two. The Americans in this story are Russians by heritage, and so the church is Eastern Orthodox. The movie begins with the wedding of John Savage, one the three buddies who are about to ship out to Vietnam. It’s rumored that the bride is pregnant, but Savage confides to Walken that he never touched her. Is this a miracle, an immaculate conception leading to a virgin birth, or is Savage just the pawn of inscrutable and uncontrollable forces? Is there any difference between between the two, between miracle and chance? God is the inscrutable light from above that shines down on everything, unapproachable and wholly other — Eastern. All we Western men can do is play our assigned roles in the sacerdotal rituals: birth, work, marriage, male bonding, war, death. Unless, like DiNiro, one regards the ritual as a portal, a means of passing through the ritual into the encounter with God Himself.

    The second screen shot parallels the first. It’s Saigon during the last days of the American occupation. The light shines down from above on DiNiro (his back to the camera) and Walken (on the right with the red headband), the two Western men, pitting themselves not against each other but against death, while the Eastern priest (the man in the suit standing behind the table) and his acolytes preside over the ritual (note, though, that everyone wears Western attire). DiNiro stands facing Walken, but by standing he presents himself as an alternative priest. Only then does he change places with the Vietnamese man seated at the left.


    Comment by ktismatics — 29 July 2008 @ 7:11 am

  3. DS I don’t know if you’re ever coming back to read my response to your comment, but appertaining to a prior discussion I watched Flags of Our Fathers (Eastwood) and found it quite ordinary. It highlights the cynical exploitation of the flag-planters at Iwo Jima, where political marketeers used the iconic photo-image to create heroes out of ordinary soldiers, then sent them on a national tour to sell war bonds. An interesting angle, but I think Eastwood spent too much time looking at the invasion of Iwo Jima a la Spielberg’s Private Ryan, and watching the stunned faces of the soldiers as they’re turned into a traveling spectacle. He’d have been better served exploring the political and economic side which was after all his main point.


    Comment by ktismatics — 31 July 2008 @ 6:46 am

  4. “Is this a miracle, an immaculate conception leading to a virgin birth”

    What on earth are you talking about? That is absolutely NEVER implied. She actually was impregnated by Nick (Christopher Walken) as is hinted at several times throughout the movie. Cimino himself said so in the DVD commentary, but even if he hadn’t it was also implied that Stan was a possible father. No mention of immaculate conception, as Angela’s certainly not made out to be a saint in the first scene.


    Comment by Kristina — 29 March 2011 @ 6:00 pm

  5. I was being ironic, Kristina. The rest of the sentence you quote — “…or is Savage just the pawn of inscrutable and uncontrollable forces?” — seems to be the idea, yes? What about Walken’s incredible run of luck playing Russian Roulette — is it miracle or chance, do you think? Is there any difference between the two? It seemed that Walken could have walked away with DeNiro, but he knew he was doomed to stay at that table until the bullet finally found the right chamber in the revolver. The American government’s attempt to play God in Vietnam, to control its destiny — it was just as subject to chance/fate, and just as inevitably luck was going to run out. Might as well call it what it was: suicide.


    Comment by ktismatics — 29 March 2011 @ 6:55 pm

  6. […] ktismatics.wordpress.com […]


    Pingback by The Deer Hunter (1978) | Old Old Films — 1 July 2011 @ 9:33 am

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