Oliver Stone’s Vietnam by Richard Lowry

13 09 2008

American Studies 2000

Actually, one of the few reviews dealing with both Illias and Moby Dick parallel as well as.

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The civil war among the unit is set up using traditional mythological symbols. Elias and Barnes can be viewed as conflicting mythological gods, with differing views of the world and war. Stone has said that the two characters can be viewed as Achilles (Barnes) and Hector (Elias), both characters from Trojan War mythology. These comparisons are easily seen. Barnes has the same angered disposition as Achilles, and Elias has the same problems of conscious as Hector, fighting the Trojan War which he has deemed a losing battle.

Stone goes farther with literary references in presenting the character of Barnes as a modern incarnation of Captain Ahab from Moby Dick. In voice over, Taylor says that “through him, our Captain Ahab, we would set things right again”(…) To accentuate the reference, Stone has given Barnes a scar down the side of his face, exactly like one that appears on the face of Ahab in the Melville story. His actions also resemble Ahab. Ahab is obsessed with revenge, as is Barnes in his determination to defeat not only the Vietnamese, but also Elias for control of the squad.

Stone portrays Taylor’s trip to Vietnam as a descend into the underworld, a theme that appears in a number of stories from mythology. The movie is bookended by scenes of Taylor’s arrival and departure from Vietnam. It begins with his helicopter landing, literally representing a descent into the new world. (…) Likewise, the film ends with his departure on the helicopter, being lifted to safety from the underworld. Stone also includes a scene where fellow soldier Rhah asks Taylor “What are you doing in the underworld?”

Hmm… right, it is the only time someone uses the name “Underworld” in the movie. We (viewers) tend to name it this way only because of what Rhah says. Stone uses the name in the script to describe the place, but it appears in a dialogue only once.

This we know already…

The most obvious symbol in the film is Sergeant Elias as a Christ figure. Barnes calls Elias a water walker, an obvious reference to the Bible tale where Jesus proves his power by walking across water. More explicitly, the character of sergeant O’Neill, another military officer portrayed by John C. McGinley, says that Elias thinks that “he is Jesus f**king Christ.” Elias’ status as a Christ figure is most unquestionably presented during Elias’ dramatic death sequence.

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