How has the period of the Vietnam War been portrayed in film? Forrest Gump (1) (1994) (Robert Zemeckis)
This section of Forrest Gump shows little criticism of American involvement in the Vietnam War. It presents a ‘cosy’ view of the war by portraying it through Forrest’s innocent, uncritical, child-like eyes.
The film honours the army and portrays the soldiers as normal, decent young men who were doing their duty for America. Forrest’s heroic actions add a patriotic view to American involvement in Vietnam and make the army and soldiers look brave, loyal and chivalrous. Their innocence is also shown in their will to ‘get home’, creating sympathy for the US.
Although ‘cosy’ in its view of the War, this section is also slightly critical of US involvement. The music included is often songs by artists such as Jimi Hendrix, whose lyrics are associated with the anti-war movement in America. Forrest’s lack of knowledge regarding the Vietcong is suggestive to the lack of knowledge displayed by the whole army regarding the policy of containment.
The conditions of war in the film are displayed as tough and the guerrilla warfare that takes place is shown to have a high human cost.
This section of Forrest Gump is only slightly critical of US involvement in Vietnam, but as it is shown entirely from the US perspective, it is a largely romantic and patriotic view of the army and the war.
Apocalypse Now (1979) (Francis Ford Coppola)
Apocalypse Now has been made to show an anti-war view in the extreme. The film uses graphic scenes of war and the attitudes of soldiers to display the madness and insanity of the war.
The music used in the film is Wagner’s ‘Ride of the Valkyries’. It is an exciting and invigorating piece, which is carefully juxtapositioned with the singing of Vietnamese children to ‘jolt’ and heighten the brutality of the army. It is also known to be Hitler’s favourite piece, which suggests war and brutality.
The film portrays a ‘boys own excitement’ view of the war through the ‘gun ho’ attitudes of the soldiers. One captain in particular is portrayed as psychotic and brutal in the extreme. His comments such as ‘I love the smell of Napalm in the morning’ and ‘Do these people never give up?’ are critical of the servicemen and portray them as savages.
The US conduct of war is shown in the film as superior. The use of Napalm and massive brutality are shown and the Vietcong are presented as civilians, or mixed within.
Apocalypse Now shows the army as effective and sovereign although brutal, insane and very unsound. It is very critical of the US regime in Vietnam.
Full Metal Jacket (1987) (Stanley Kubrick)
This piece of film shows documentary style footage from Saigon in the late sixties. The opinions of the soldiers included are varied; some display gun ho attitudes: ‘We’re the best’, towards the war and some criticise the government who sent them by mocking President Johnson. The opinions make the soldiers look inexperienced, innocent and lacking correct training and information. The range in attitudes represents the little clarity within the US army as to why they are fighting and involved in Vietnam. Kubrick is therefore inferring that US policy cannot be defended and is criticising the government for sending an ill-informed army.
Forrest Gump (2) (1994) (Robert Zemeckis)
This piece of film shows the massive anti-war movement across America the clash of opinions between soldiers and students. It is shown through the eyes of ‘a child’ and therefore, demonstrates simply what adults fail to realise.
It is not openly critical or approving of the Vietnam War, but simply reminds us that ‘Love is important’.
Platoon (1986) (Oliver Stone)
The devastation, red, dusty crater-like scene in this film suggests a ‘hell on earth’. The images of bodies being scraped are reminiscent of Nazi concentration camps and imply major devastation and murder. This is critical of the US regime in Vietnam.
This scene is very poignant; an atmosphere created by melancholic music and pensive reflections of a soldier.
The soldiers in the scene are portrayed as willing to go home; they are not openly criticised, the criticism that the film shows lies with the American government.
The film is dedicated ‘To the men who fought and died in the Vietnam War’. This very anti-war statement is dedicated to all of the soldiers, not just American.