Platoon (1986)

The theme of immorality also appears in Platoon, a 1986 American antiwar film written and directed by Oliver Stone. This film is the first of a trilogy of the Vietnam War films by Stone, along with Born on the Fourth of July (1989) and Heaven & Earth (1993). The male protagonist in Platoon is Chris Taylor, who arrives in South Vietnam in 1967 and is assigned to an infantry platoon of the 25th Infantry Division near the Cambodian border. The rivalry between Barnes and Elias shows the undisciplined in the U.S. Army. Instead of fighting against the enemy, American soldiers are fighting each other. Barnes and his followers represent the immoral side of the war: American men rape then kill innocent village women, whereas Elias, an African American soldier, and his crew use marijuana to reduce the pain from injuries and homesickness, which is an obvious an emotional escapism for American soldiers to deal with the war. The inexperienced and naivety of Lieutenant Wolfe also seems to foreshadow the final result of the war. Apparently, Oliver Stone’s war narrative spotlights the cruel and immoral reality of the war.

In Platoon, there is an episode that reminds the audience of the My Lai Massacre. During one of the patrols, VC booby traps kill three U.S. troops, which upsets Taylor and the men in his platoon. When the platoon unit discovers an enemy supply and weapons in a village nearby, they violently interrogate civilians, demanding to know whether any of them helped the VC. During the interrogation, Lerner cold-bloodedly kills the village chief’s wife. Shortly afterward, Taylor prevents a gang rape of two Vietnamese girls by some of Barnes’ men. Although this scene was not as brutal as the actual My Lai massacre, it revisited memories of the event. The reconstruction of the massacre also revisits the gruesome memory that solidifies common themes in war films relating to sexuality and violence. However, the theme of violence is not the only central premise that American filmmakers wanted to depict in the Vietnam War narrative trope. The sense of disunity within the U.S. military among soldiers is also a common theme in many films. This narrative trope is highlighted in Platoon through the cinematic lens of Oliver Stone, who enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1967 and requested combat duty in Vietnam.[1] Platoon is Stone’s first of three films about the Vietnam War, and it serves as his reflection and an autobiographical observation about the nature of the war.[2]

The film was produced in 1986, during the Reagan era, when the United States and Hollywood were interested in heroic action and science fiction movies, and much less interested in re-living the Vietnam War, as Platoon does.[3] The Reagan era is associated with President Reagan’s conservatism, as his ideas dominated national policymaking in areas such as taxes, welfare, and nuclear defense, helping the nation restore its economic prosperity.[4] During this period, Hollywood reaped box-office successes from new developments in film technology and sequels through the Rocky, Star Wars, and Star Trek franchises. The American people were attracted to these films and enjoyed watching these glorious fantasy realms, rather than facing the realities of a war with no end in sight. Platoon’s success at the box office exhumed the unpleasant memory of a war that many Americans wanted to forget, depicting the war’s realities, rather than telling a story about heroic victories.

Postwar Hollywood films about the Vietnam War revived unpleasant memories and experiences in their efforts to recreate a controversial war. These films emphasized common themes in war films, mainly violence, to highlight memorable events. These reenactments emotionally resonated with Americans, many of whom were against the military engagement in Vietnam. The film narrative reflected most Americans’ general perspective, but also shaped how people will remember the war because the narrative has been integrated into the nation’s collective memory of the war through media depictions, providing a wider social and cultural perspective in the study of film and history.

[1] Randy Roberts and David Welky, “Coming to Terms with the Vietnam War – A Sacred Mission: Oliver Stone and Vietnam,” in Hollywood’s America Understanding History through Film, ed. Steven Mintz and Randy Roberts, and David Welky, (United Kingdom: Wiley-Blackwell, 2016), 306.

[2] Roberts and Welky, “Coming to Terms with the Vietnam War,” 307.

[3] Roberts, 313.

[4] Ronald Reagan, White House, accessed September 11, 2017,

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(American Films)                                                                                                                                                                                 (Oliver Stone’s Biography)