Laced into the very cinematic identity of late 20th century Hollywood filmmaking, the wounds and scars of the Vietnam war were laid to bear in the film industry during the conflict and long after its end. Casting an analytical eye on America’s brutal invasion of the country, filmmakers such as Oliver Stone, Stanley Kubrick and Francis Ford Coppola each lent their cinematic vision to the depiction of the war.
One of the most influential filmmakers in this sub-genre was Oliver Stone, a Vietnam veteran who came to prominence with films such as Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July. Speaking in an interview with the Washington Post, Stone explained his stance on the Vietnam war as well as the current state of US politics, “We went to war on a false basis, it was a lie…that war was a disaster, it resulted in many changes but not enough changes”.
Whilst Oliver Stone certainly acted as a leading voice in stories of the Vietnam war, it was Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter starring Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken and Meryl Streep that would represent one of Hollywood’s very first attempts to comment on the negativity on the war itself.
Prominently anti-war in its stance, The Deer Hunter would take home Best Picture and Best Director at the 1979 Academy Awards, but will forever be remembered for its iconic and deeply disturbing Russian roulette scene.
Remaining one of cinema’s most memorable scenes throughout the late 20th century, The Deer Hunter had a profound effect on the American population, triggering a wake-up call to sceptics across the nation. An iconic scene of American cinema, it also shocked cinephiles across the world, including none other than Jodie Foster, who marks the scene as a life-changing moment for her.
Speaking in an interview with the American Film Institute, Jodie Foster explains the power behind the scene, noting: “As each one passes the gun to the other they have to anticipate that they’re gonna watch their best friend’s head blow off, with each click of the gun their bond is cemented even more”.
Continuing, Foster recalls, “Distinctly sitting in the movie theatre and weeping in the middle of this film and feeling as if I was going to be changed for the rest of my life, it was a moment of filmmaking that was so true and so horrifying and so real that I would never be the same”.
Remembering his time working on the iconic war film, Robert De Niro told GQ, “I liked the story and the dialogue. I just thought it was a terrific script. It was so simple and it seemed so real to me. The characters spoke to me. I liked that they didn’t say much, that there wasn’t anything that was condescending or patronising toward them”.