Above: Advertisement for Might is Right by Ragnar Redbeard in the Chicago Sunday Tribune of 12 November 1905. Might (represented by a rampaging tiger) defeats popular opinion (represented by publisher W. R. Hearst) and democracy (represented by a ballot box).
The Deer Hunter (1978)
The Deer Hunter is generally considered as one of the best movies ever, or at least as one of the best movies about the Vietnam-war and its aftermath. It was director by Michael Cimino, who was still unknown at the time. The enormous success of The Deer Hunter didn’t skyrocket his career though: Heaven’s Gate (1980), his follow-up film got devastating reviews upon its release and he never quite artistically recovered from this.
In a long first act of the movie, Cimino takes his time to introduce his Russian American main characters: the best friends and co-workers Michael (Robert De Niro), Nick (Christopher Walken) and Steven (John Savage). They are all leaving for Vietnam in a couple of days, but Steven is getting married and Cimino directs the grand wedding on a grand scale with happy and drunk people, as if there is no war going on at all. The second act, which takes place in the Vietnam-war, starts abruptly with explosions and shootings all around. Some horrific things happen to the friends and in the third and final act they have to find a way to deal with this.
Cimino examines the way war can change a person and explores his characters in specific, who all have their own way of dealing with it. Some might argue that the first act of the film takes too long, but it is the basis of a friendship that will release strong emotions in the other acts. The rather short war sequences (shorter than one might expect from a war-movie) are devastating to see, intense in a way I have not experienced in a long time. The psychological consequences are maddening, and captured by Cimino and cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond so calm yet strikingly it’s unnerving to see.
The Deer Hunter is a moving picture, with a strong narrative and great performances from the cast. It is a defining movie that depicts the cruel Vietnam-war and its personal aftermath like no movie has done before or after. There is Apocalypse Now (1979) of course, but that movie doesn’t shed as much light on the aftermath. They don’t make war-movies like this anymore.