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The Deer Hunter

Directed by Michael Cimino

USA, 1978

Cornerhouse, 7 September 2014

The Deer Hunter

The shadow cast by the Vietnam War is the subject of Cimino’s most perfectly realised film.

Made when memories were still raw, the war is depicted as destructive and traumatic yet also salutary.  It changes the three friends who go over to fight in it, the two who return to their Pennsylvanian town.  Adapt or die; hold fast to what is precious; sculpt a world you can live in.  Other injunctions can be gleaned.

On this viewing, I wondered why Nick (Christopher Walken) would send cash to Steven (John Savage) at the VA Hospital.  How would he get his address or even know he was there, being all the way out in Saigon?  And if he did so, why would he later not recognise Michael?  De Niro plays Michael as a kind of Hemingway figure, right down to the latent homosexuality, which is not entirely convincing.  He maybe bears comparison with the Burt Reynolds character in Deliverance.  There is as well a future unforeseen for the people in this town, one not apparent when the film was made: the decline and closure of the steel mills in and around Pittsburgh, resulting in large-scale unemployment.  Reagan would preside over that.  ‘God Bless America’ indeed.

Like Heaven’s Gate, The Deer Hunter begins with hope and celebration (a wedding, not a graduation) before plunging into the chaotic horror of war.  Certain tropes occur in both.

The Deer Hunter is showing again on Wednesday as part of the Matinee Classics season, further details are here.