Saturday, May 10, 2008

Top Trilogies - 8 - Vietnam by Oliver Stone

Here is a trilogy that gets very little attention despite two Best Director wins, a Best Picture win and another nomination for Best Picture. The reason is that this is a thematic trilogy taking a different perspective on America's favorite war.

The first film, Platoon (1986), takes a look at war in and of itself. It doesn't support war, it isn't against war it just is, much in the same way that it was just there in Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket. Stone just lets his camera move around the jungle with a kid (Charlie Sheen) who represents Stone in his experience, who is scared to die but ends up more cynical for living. Its a powerful film that shows the ins and outs of war and how it affects the innocence of the young men that we send over seas to fight them.

The second film, Born on the Fourth of July (1989), takes the war home. In the film a young man in a fit of patriotism signs up for the marines to go over to Vietnam and fight a war that he knows little about, just that America must win it. When he is over there his legs are blown off in an explosion. When he comes home he is a strong advocate for what America is doing over there until he sees the same things that everyone else was seeing. His anti-war stance slowly grows until he is involved with protests that find him at the 1968 Republican National Convention. This film, based on a true story, is one of the finest of Stone's films.

The final film of the trilogy, Heaven and Earth (1993), not only crosses the national line from America to Vietnam; but it also crosses the gender perspective from male to female. This story is about a young woman from Vietnam who is rapped and forced into slavery during the war until she marries an American soldier and finds new problems with materialism back in the States.

The three films, in fact, have little in common with each other. There are two very prominent things, however, that transcend all of them. The first is the obvious war in Vietnam during the 1960s and its effects on everyone involved. The second is the loss of innocence experienced. In Platoon he shows us the loss of emotional/mental innocence due to the actual atrocities of war. In Born on the Fourth of July we are shown the loss of innocence the nation as a whole experienced as it became disillusioned with the war and the body bags coming home. Finally, in Heaven and Earth, Stone shows us the emotional/physical innocence lost by a young woman forced into sexual situations that she should not have been in. All of these films are important in their own way, and Oliver Stone, despite some his ambitious flops of the late 90s and early 00s should be remembered as the great film maker that he is.

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