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The Deer Hunter

The Deer Hunter

I can’t believe I had been keeping myself from watching this movie, solely because of its age.
I was watching it with a group of friends, and even though that girl was sitting next to me, I had a hard time not watering up at some points and I was baffled that I could be this much affected by any movie.

I think you all know the story.
A group of friends, who work in the iron industry, enjoys hunting deer together. One of the guys is getting married while three other guys are going to fight in the Vietnam War. To mark these occasions they go on a deer hunt together. After the wedding (which maybe takes a bit too long in the movie) we are abruptly thrown into the action. The movie shifts to the war in Vietnam. Michael, Nicky and Steven are taken prisoners in a Viet Cong camp. After playing a deadly round of Russian roulette they escape the camp, where after the movie divides into two. We follow Michael’s return home, we see how he gets back on his feet and we see him hunt deer again. But we also see constant references to the horrors the guys experienced in the war.

Which brings us to Nicky. Nicky never returned home. He faded out from his earlier life and we follow his psychological descent. He visit prostitutes, drinks and upon stumbling into a bar where he puts a gun to his head he becomes involved in a Vietnamese ‘club’ where they play and bet on Russian roulette. The same game he and Michael were forced to play in the Viet Cong camp.
The story of Michael and the story of Nicky merge in such a heartbreaking manner, that I won’t reveal it for you, just in that unlikely case that some of you haven’t watched the movie.

This movie stars Robert de Niro and Christopher Walken. I single these two out because the other actors appear mediocre compared to them. This isn’t due to Walken and de Niro’s individual performances, but the acting between them. The chemistry is amazing – I dare say it’s the best I’ve seen. The Russian roulette scene in the camp made me feel uncomfortable. I felt sick. On the contrary to repulsing horror scenes this was a positive discomfort, since the feelings were triggered due to amazing acting instead of disgusting gore scenes.
Another memorable scene was when Nicky walked in on a game of Russian roulette. He takes the gun without hesitation and puts it to the contestant’s head and pulls the trigger, where after he immediately puts the gun to his own head – all done with a dead, indifferent look in his eyes.

These scenes were executed with amazing acting. However, the scenes wouldn’t be half as powerful, was it not for the great writing. The Russian roulette is an extremely powerful tool and the movie is plastered with brilliant symbols. One of the best is the scene with Michael and the deer. After a lengthily chase Michael finally catches up with the deer but he realizes that he can’t shoot it. The deer superiorly regards Michael, after which it slowly walks away without dignifying him another look.
Michael had just returned from the Vietnam War. He’s shot people and yet he couldn’t shoot a deer. The majestic and superior gaze of the deer seems as a symbol of the indifference and idiocy of mankind. The deer seems superior compared to Michael. It has no worries and it does not bring pain and suffering to itself. This same indifference is emphasized via Nicky, which seems to have given in to it and thrown his life away, and the green barrette who utters; “just f*ck it all’, in the beginning of the movie. The game of Russian roulette alone is filled with idiocy and meaninglessness and this game is equated with the Vietnam War itself. And war in general for that matter.

It’s been a long time since I’ve watched a movie that had this kind of emotional impact on me. I’ve always loved Walken due to his performances in ‘The Prophecy’ trilogy and his minor roles in movies such as ‘Pulp Fiction’ and even ‘Balls of Fury’ and ‘Man of the Year’. But his performance in this movie laid the basic to the man’s foundation of awesomeness. At least for me.
I’ve got nothing but love for this movie. One can argue that the story was a bit slow to start with, but, to me, that didn’t hurt the movie at all.