The Deer Hunter

Robert De Niro
Christopher Walken
John Savage
Meryl Streep

Directed by Michael Cimino, the 1978 film "The Deer Hunter", was considered one of the most horrific and mentally distrubing vietnam films of its time.
Though most of the action doesnt happen in the war itself, the blunt and forwardness of the aftershock and the brutal and tense feeling of the broken men, broken soldiers, can bring the audience shivers down their spine.
As part of the audience, the irony is evident, but in this case, this is no satirical irony, it is the sad truth that makes the audience realise the right from wrong, the patriotic.. from the plain stupid.
It is hard to achieve the full potential of this film, or what Cimino was aiming for (not because he didnt achieve it) but only because the time comparison from the present time to which it was released, just a couple years after saigon had fallen.
Yet it still has that raw, eerie and dense feeling. As though it ought to be a horror rather then a war film.
The film was, and still is, considered amongst the best and even recieved Nine Academy Award nominations, one of which went to Vilmos Zsigmond for best cinematography. Even now, its film techniques adds a roughness, almost documentry like to the story, achieving the realistic appeal that the audience needs to be emotionally and mentally exhausted, the idea is to give them the experience of the war, not to show them every little detail like your a-typical wartime movie, but to leave the events, all except one, to the audiences imagination and to even further, show them how it creates these broken men, these broken soldiers.
Spanning the period of 1968-1975 the film is split into 3 acts -


Act 1-
Michael, Nick and Steven are three young factory workers from a small steel mill town, Clairton, Pensylvania, who have enlisted to fight in Vietnam. Characters are set, a nervous young bride is checking her wedding dress in the mirror, a loud russian mother is having a final confession with an orthadox priest: "I still do not believe this. My own boy with a strange girl and not so thin, if you understand my meaning...The next thing you know, he goes to Vietnam...I do not understand, Father. I understand nothing anymore, nothing...Can you explain? Can anyone explain?" Before leaving Steven marries the pregnant Angela whose wedding party is also the 3 mens farewell- in the background, above the bride and groom, a banner reads
The newly weds skull wine, a russian tradition/suspicion, if the wine is spilt it means bad luck for the rest of the marriage, the camera zooms as red drops sink in to the brides pure white dress. This could also symbolise loss of innocence, purity; which as the mother of the groom can tell, is already underway.
A soldier turns up, a green beret, whilst the drunk friends try to hold a conversation, obviously excited/nervous for the coming adventure, all the green beret can say is "fuck it" and slug down shot after shot.
At the end of the night, raging with jealousy (after Nick confides in michael his proposal of marrying linda when they return) michael runs down the street stripping bare, until he reaches the basketball court, where nick catches up with him and makes michael promise him that he wont ever leave him behind in vietnam.
A symbol of strong companionship.
The next day, the young men accompanied by a few others, prepare for their last deer hunting trip together, Michael is seen as the leader, and has a strong belief in his one shot philosophy -
Michael: I'll tell ya one thing, if I found out my life had to end up in the mountains, it'd be all right, but it has to be in your mind.
Nick: What? One shot?
Michael: Two is pussy.
Nick: I don't think about one shot that much any more, Mike.
Michael: You have to think about one shot. One shot is what it's all about. The deer has to be taken with one shot. I try to tell people that - they don't listen. Do you ever think about Vietnam?
Nick: Yeah. I don't know. I guess I'm thinkin' about the deer, goin' to 'Nam. I like the trees, you know? I like the way the trees are on the mountains, all different. The way the trees are. I sound like some a--hole, right?
Michael: I'll tell ya, Nick. You're the only guy I go huntin' with, you know. I like a guy with quick moves and speed. I ain't gonna hunt with no a--holes.
A deer is killed- with one shot- and they all return to their favourite bar to celebrate, their friend axel takes to the piano* and the mood suddenly changes, the audience feels wary, and it is subtly shown that the men have only just realised, it is their turn to go to war.
The sound of helicopters blades rhythmically whipping the air leads the film into its second act.
*Chopin's Nocturne No. 6 in G Minor, Op. 15, No. 3

Act 2-
Two years later and the first scene opens with a rush of insanity, fire, helicopters, grenades, napalm, pigs eating singed corpses. Pure insanity.
Michael, Nick and Steven are captured and become Prisoners Of War (POW's) in a riverside vietcong torture camp. They are forced to play Russian Roulette as part of the guards entertainment. Steven is punnished by incarceration to an underwater cage after aiming the gun to the roof and the bullet only just grazing his head.
Mike and Nick are forced to play each other- Michael has the plan to load three bullets, as each of the 3 empty chambers have gone, Michael shoots their captors, leaving Nick to grab a machine gun to finnish them off. After having to pull a ravenous Nick off an enemy corpse, they escape as slightly more broken men, with their friend, the equally broken, Steven.
As they traveled down river, an american helicopter manages to pick them up, Steven falls and Michael jumps after him, only Nick gets away safely.
Steven has broken both his legs in the fall and it is up to Michael to get him back to friendly lines safely.
Back in saigon, Nick is recouperating in a military hospital. Unable to remember his parents birthdays, he is slowly becoming more and more detatched from his previous life. He calls home.. but there's no answer.
He travels from bar to bar, until he meets a frenchman, Julien Grinda, who leads him to a familiar past time, A Russian Roulette bar,
Theres no going home now.. wherever that may be.

Act 3-
Michael has come home! Though he appears to be the least affected out of the 3, he has the guilt of breaking his promise to Nick, as well as using that to his advantage.. getting closer to linda. Michael finds out that Steven is alive and manages to get the number of his hospital off his wife, the mentally disturbed Angela.
As Michael enters the house, Angelas son is seen playing with a toy gun, points it at Michael and says in baby form - bang.
Steven is at a veteran clinic with no legs and one arm, he tells michael of the large sum of money he's been recieving from saigon - Nick's still alive!
Michael honouring his promise, makes the trip to saigon and with the help from the previous champagne drinking frenchman, finds Nick at the same Russian Roulette den, though it is steadily seen that he is too broken, too detatched to even recognise Michael. It is Nicks turn to play and Michael pays a large sum to get in the same game. Again, same situation as before (but with one bullet), barrel by barrel the empty shots are fired, Michaels last plea to nick is to remind him of their deer hunting days and of his well talked of philosophy:
Michael: Do you remember the trees? Do you remember all the different ways of the trees? Do you remember that? Do you remember? Huh? The mountains? Do you remember all that?
Nick: One shot. (He smiles and laughs in recognition.)
Michael: One shot, one shot.
bang - Nick raised the gun to his head, and like the deer, with one shot he was dead.
Michael sat holding his dear friends head to his chest, overcome with pain, guilt and pure sadness.

Back home again, and though the film started with a wedding, it's ending with a funeral. Friends and family are gathered, all in black. The coffin is carried too the herse, and Michael gazes through the small back window at the coffin, as though staring at a tv.
The small group of friends go to their favourite bar for the wake, and the barman (also their friend) whilst making scrambled eggs, starts to sing "God Bless America" to cover the sound of his sobbing and tears. The rest of the party joins, and in an eerie murmur, sing the entirety of the song.
“God bless America, Land that I love, Stand beside her and guide her, Thru the night with a light from above.”
The movie ends with the friends making a toast to their friend Nick.

Cant you just taste that irony?
The comparison of "Apocalypse Now" comes into play in act 3 where Michael is set on a mission to go upriver to find Nick.
Once he is reached, he is past the point of no return - literally.
He cannot remember his past, nor does he see any future beyond what is infront of him.
Nick is

Bibliography - - 12:18 AM 10/09/2010
I found this a very detailed and useful source, though the reliability still falls on the fact that its still only a review. 12:30 AM 10/09/2010
This is also a review but the language and great plot description was a great help.
Please have a look! you will find this source very helpful indeed! also one of the only sources i have found that had the mention of Apocalypse now!