The Deer Hunter Review: Friendship, Love, and the Terror and Horror of War.
A review and analysis of the critically acclaimed epic war film that sheds light on the effects of war on people’s lives.
A three-hour film that starts with men working in a steel mill, one of them getting married and others getting drunk, three of them participating in the Vietnam war, and then attending a funeral. Grandly directed by Michael Cimino this movie has been hailed as one of the best movies ever made in Hollywood winning accolades and praise both by critics and audience.
Starting in Pennsylvania with scenes of steelwork in a mill, we see a group of friends finishing their shift and saying goodbye to their co-workers as they are leaving to be soldiers in the war. On their way out one of them, Steven played by John Savage is getting married today before leaving. We see that this group of men are intimate friends. Getting drunk and singing songs together. Nick played by Christopher Walken and Mike played by the very talented Robert De Niro plan a deer hunt for the next morning.
We see family and friends preparing for the wedding. Beautifully decorated church and gorgeous bridesmaids. Among them is the scintillating Linda played by Meryl Streep, giving a flawless performance like always. To escape her abusive and alcoholic father, Linda comes to move into Nick’s and Mike’s home as they are going to be away.
We now attend a wedding where everyone is happy and dancing and getting drunk. We see that Nick and Mike both love Linda. Nick asks her to marry him and she says yes with tears in her eyes. All these scenes establish the blind and mindless patriotism for which people give up their happy lives away.
The next morning brings us to the gorgeously picturesque mountains. Mike and Nick are hunting partners. Mike wants to kill a deer in a single shot and does exactly that. Taking life at this point in the movie is an insignificant task for now.
We now enter the war in Vietnam and see people killing and getting killed violently. All three friends along with some other soldiers are taken prisoners by the Viet Cong. The Viet Cong forces the soldiers to play Russian roulette while they gamble their money on them.
This Game of Russian roulette becomes a symbol of the randomness of the war and how it challenges the mental abilities of its participants with the fear of death. It is beautifully constructed in the film to be a minified version of the war.
Mike and Nick face each other but manage to escape along with Steven. While Nick is rescued by the army helicopter, Steven falls into the river trying hard to cling to the helicopter. Mike jumps to save him. Steven hurts his legs badly. Mike carries him and hands him over to a group of soldiers. All three of them are separated for the first time. Throughout Mike was trying to keep his promise of saving his friends.
Nick suffers from physical and psychological traumas. Wandering in Saigon, he comes across a gambling den where Russian roulette is being played. A businessman outside the den insists on coming in. Mike is an audience in the game. Reminded of his torture, Nick flees. Mike sees him but isn’t able to get his attention.
Mike returns home. Devastated with the war he is now surrounded by darkness and an inability to reintegrate into society. He skips his welcome home party. He meets friends later who treat him like a “hero”, having no knowledge of the war and its devastating effects.
He meets Linda the next morning to learn nobody knows where Nick is. Still attracted to her but unable to make love. We see both the characters suffering in misery. Mike yet again tries to save his friends. Finding a crippled Steven in a hospital, Mike forces him to come back home. Steven tells mike about the huge amount of money he has been receiving. Mike understands that they come from Nick.
Mike comes back to Vietnam to find Nick playing Russian roulette professionally. Once again they face each other. Mike trying to stop him from playing. We then attend a funeral in the same church as the wedding with the same people who were once happy here.
Afterward, surrounded by sadness they sing “God bless America”, giving new meaning to the words. And the transition from a wedding to a funeral ends.
This film doesn’t talk about war being good or bad. It merely presents you with its effects penetrating the lives of people. How it changes people for life. This film has to be appreciated for its direction, storytelling, and outstanding performances. Artistic yet real, beautiful yet terrifying, simple yet profound. If you haven’t already, do watch it.