Michael Cimino

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John Pilger

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 513

The Deer Hunter is technically slick, and perhaps its documentary and verité effects are even brilliant; something must have prompted usually discriminating critics to opt for unction and naïvete.

And, I suppose, for those who have forgotten what Vietnam was really about, or would wish to forget, or are too young to remember, or are truly naive, the slickness is persuasive; the wedding guests, the blood gushes, the bullets thud and the rotors of helicopters make the sound that is forever embedded in my brain, from years of attending the reality. Otherwise, the symbolism is leaden (one shot for the proud stag etc.), the schmaltz elongated and the sadism utterly gratuitious: the kind of sadism that packs 'em in.

There are times when, even by the film's own standards, the slick runs precariously thin….

The Deer Hunter is harmless enough unless you happen to be a gook, Commie or otherwise, or of a generation too young to remember genocidal 'free fire zones' and towns and villages that 'had to be destroyed to save them'.

That the same cynical mythmaking is now being applied to Vietnam (there'll be Deer Hunter 2, I bet) induces more melancholy than anger in those like myself, who saw whole Vietnamese communities used as guinea pigs for the testing of a range of 'anti-personnel' military technology, and who saw demoralised, brutalised, often mutinous and doped American teenagers lying in their own blood and shit, for the purposes of some pointless, sacrificial siege staged in the cause of nothing, except the gratification of inept brass in their air-conditioned bubbles.

There is not a passing hint in The Deer Hunter that Vietnam was, above all, a war of rampant technology against human beings. There are, however, heavenly violins….

Michael Cimino is being hailed in America as the champion of the 'new patriotism'….

Cimino is an expert salesman. He sold The Deer Hunter without a script. Originally, it was to be the recollections of a group of former GIs, but what helped to convince the major backers that they were on to a winner were the orgiastic Russian roulette scenes that recur throughout the film and leave an audience with the impression that the Vietnamese gamble on human life as casually as the British gamble on the pools….

[Much] of Cimino's picture is given over to this 'meaningful horror', which he insists happened and which is meant to be somehow redemptive. (p. 352)

The timing of The Deer Hunter is perfect. The 'new patriotism' and the mood of the national redemption decree that it is time the American conscience was salved and the Vietnamese 'punished' for defeating and humiliating the greatest power on earth….

[A song sung by American-fathered children in a Saigon orphanage runs:] 'The war is gone … planes come no more … do not weep for those just born … the human being is evergreen'. If you see The Deer Hunter, you may like to remember these words. (p. 353)

John Pilger, "Why 'The Deer Hunter' Is a Lie," in New Statesman (© 1979 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 97, No. 2504, March 16, 1979, pp. 352-53.

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