Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 451
[Cimino's] attitude toward the material is the source of The Deer Hunter's great success and at the same time the reason it has been a subject of controversy ever since it appeared in December. Cimino shrewdly refuses to be drawn into a discussion of the war; against all temptation he avoids any trace of sententiousness. He presents the war not as a political event with political implications but as a great historic tragedy that fell upon the American people—rather like some gigantic earthquake that leaves tens of thousands of dead behind it. This is not how politicians and newspapers see the war, but it is how the America that Cimino is interested in—the non-political, working-class America that lives outside the debates of politicians and newspapers, the America for which Washington is almost as foreign as Saigon—actually experienced the Vietnam era. Something happened, and then stopped happening. There was never a time when these people, so far as they knew, could keep it from happening or change the way it happened…. Cimino's film is a portrait of the unexamined life lived by people who do not know any other way of living and would be astonished if one were described to them.
These people, these victims—Cimino seems to say—deserve their poet, too, and he has named himself to that office. He looks deeply into the themes and rituals of their lives, particularly into the theme of intensely physical male comradeship…. There are times when The Deer Hunter seems to be an illustration of Leslie A. Fiedler's seminal book, Love and Death in the American Novel, which depicts American life as a series of homo-erotic male bondings. Cimino makes every turn of his drama heighten the intensity of these male feelings. Even the endless wedding scene focuses on what the men are doing, feeling, saying to each other—as if the women were there mainly for decoration. (p. 48)
It is … an attempt—largely successful—to suggest some of the ways some Americans live and reflect in their lives the great movements of history…. Those who hate The Deer Hunter because it refuses to deal with American guilt in the war are missing Cimino's point. The Deer Hunter is not a documentary; it's a nightmare. In Cimino's hands the facts of the war are arbitrarily re-arranged, just as we re-arrange the details of life in a nightmare. (pp. 48-9)
The Deer Hunter accomplishes what the best dramatic art does: it takes us somewhere we have never been before and brings us back enlarged and broadened. (p. 49)
Marshall Delaney [pseudonym of Robert Fulford], "From Inside the American Nightmare," in Saturday Night (copyright © 1979 by Saturday Night), Vol. 94, No. 5, June, 1979, pp. 48-9.
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