Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
As a Vietnam veteran film director, Oliver Stone has made several controversial films on the Vietnam War and the 1950s. Among his filmography, we can categorize Platoon (1986), Born on the Fourth of July (1989), and Heaven and Earth (1993)-Stone's so called Vietnam Trilogy-as the most direct depictions of the war and its aftermath, whereas The Doors (1991), JFK (1991), and Nixon (1995) examine the broader political and cultural dimension of the war and the era. Throughout his Vietnam films, Stone struggles to find the new America's identity by studying the historical meaning of its past events and characters, because he knows that the correct interpretation of the past based upon a balanced political perspective is a beginning of understanding who Americans are, and predicting what the country will be in the new millennium.
Stone shows the progression of his political awareness from American Self to Vietnamese Other in his Vietnam Trilogy. In Platoon, by employing the bildungsroman form and a Christian theme, Stone examines a naive young soldier's initiation into the war. However, given an absence of historical perspective based upon the political awareness on the war, the film's narrative style and thematic structure do not work satisfactorily. In fact, Platoon replaces historical understanding of the war with a psychological interpretation-the struggle between good and evil.
In Bom on the Fourth of July, Stone examines a paralyzed Vietnam veteran's political initiation to American culture and people. At first, the protagonist Ron Kovic is a victim of both his family and his country; later he rebuilds the value of American community based upon the power of political awareness and the understanding on the war and others. At the end of the film, he is projected as the savior of the nation.
In Heaven and Earth, though Stone for the first time tries to dramatize the story from the viewpoint of the political other--a female Vietnamese, the film’s focus is still primarily on America. With the heroine Le Ly who has been victimized not only by American soldiers but also by the Vietcong, the film deeply relies on the redemptive power of the heroine. Though the heroine finds her victory in her heart, the film also cannot touch the historical wholeness of the war and does not shed tears for the Vietnamese victims. Therefore, it seems that Stone focuses on the moral redemption of American in the hand of a former enemy.
Although Oliver Stone has contributed to the understanding of the war and its effect, he still has not depicted the balanced wholeness of the war based upon historical perspective. It seems that Stone cannot transcend the Americanized context of his political vision. Therefore, it can be said that Stone’s Vietnam films are still work-in-progress versions in American film and an understanding of the Vietnam War based upon a balanced historical perspective can only be achieved by the Vietnamese themselves.
Kang, Hyeong-min, "From Self To Other In Oliver Stone's Vietnam Trilogy: Platoon, Born On The Fourth Of July, and Heaven And Earth" (1999). Theses and Dissertations. 788.