Gloria Emerson

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 455

[The Deer Hunter is] a sick and manipulative film—remarkable only for its adolescent perceptions and wild selfindulgence—that is impressing many people as the truth, the real version of what the war was like in Vietnam. Cimino has done what no one else has succeeded in doing: he has rejected the immense suffering of the Vietnamese in the South, of the Vietnamese in the North, of the Americans who fought there, in favor of a story that suits his own longings and his own fantasies about men. Do not enrich him further by going to see The Deer Hunter.

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In our desperation to explain our defeat in Vietnam, and to be comfortable with it, many people need a film like The Deer Hunter which shows the Americans in Vietnam as gallant, good, noble fellows pitted against the despicable, giggling and inhuman Asian monsters who do not, of course, value human life. It is the most racist film I have ever seen. The story of three friends, steelworkers from a small town in Pennsylvania, who are captured and forced to play Russian roulette by the Viet Cong, and who are each destroyed by the war, The Deer Hunter makes a mockery of the real pain, the real losses and the real nightmares of the survivors in all the armies. The film is the creation of a shrewd monster, a man of tremendous energy, ambition and staggering ignorance.

Using Russian roulette as his metaphor, Cimino is not bothered by the fact that this odious form of enforced suicide was not practiced by the Vietnamese and the Chinese who gambled, yes, but with cards or by playing mah-jongg. It is a stupid and offensive metaphor in terms of the American infantrymen in Vietnam who did not casually risk their lives.

The Deer Hunter sells us a version of the war, of American goodness, that we can comfortably swallow between our sobs. In the darkness of the movie houses, no one need feel guilty or ashamed of that long, long war. The hero, as played by Robert De Niro, is a strange man, almost a cartoon of a Hemingway figure, and his first name is Michael. It is Cimino's name and The Deer Hunter is his fantasy. (p. 540)

[If] only one sentence could be used as an indictment of Cimino's film—in which we see so much blood spurting across the screen during Russian roulette games—it is [Tom] Buckley [see excerpt above] who provides it. "The Deer Hunter does not examine cruelty, it exploits it," he said. And it is this which makes it an unforgivable film. (p. 541)

Gloria Emerson, "Oscars for Our Sins," in The Nation (copyright 1979 The Nation Associates, Inc.), Vol. 228, No. 18, May 12, 1979, pp. 540-41.

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