Monday, May 14, 2012

The Things They Carried VS. Platoon

I was given the opportunity to read Tim O’Brien’s novel The Things They Carried and relate it to the movie Platoon. Both the novel and the movie demonstrated how the men behaved and reacted to the gruesome effects of war and even when the war was over how those emotions and memories stayed with them for the rest of their lives. Both the author and director used methods of interpreting a story by fusing universal truths and sorrow together to bring about a better understanding of the characters and the upsetting events that took place.

The movie Platoon starts off with a young man, Chris Taylor, who allegedly dropped out of Yale and enlisted into the army. Unlike the novel The Things They Carried, where Tim O’Brien was drafted and had no say in the matter. Chris was played by actor Charlie Sheen and was the main narrator of the film; everything was told and seen basically from his outlook. The movie’s focus was on the combat and life of a platoon; it showed the everyday lifestyle of the soldiers and how they lived of the land and dealt with difficult situations – death was the most common. The other members of the platoon consisted of Barnes played by Tom Berenger; Elias played by William Dafoe, and also included minor actors such as Johnny Depp, Forrest Whitaker, and Kevin Dillon who didn’t have much of a role in the movie. The two sergeants, Barnes and Elias, were both leaders but had a different style when it came to leading the platoon. Their differences caused a war amongst the men and provided numerous plot twists, to include their own deaths. Barnes (Berenger) was the rigid and extreme soldier who would stop at absolutely nothing to achieve victory and Elias (Dafoe) was the more devoted and considerate leader who tried to make decisions that best suited his platoon. Their differences would cause a division between them and ultimately a division between the platoons. The movie had a few battle scenes but not much, the war really wasn’t with Vietnam rather the platoon. There were a few graphic and horrid scenes showing poor leadership by Barnes where he ordered his platoon to invade a village and brutally murder people, and it was so bad to the point where a few men attempted to rape some of the women. The men were savages - smashing people with the ends of their guns, shooting anything that moved, and burnt down the village. It just goes to show the massive affect the War played on these men to the point they didn’t know who or why they were fighting. They were just told to kill, and kill they did.

The movie Platoon (directed by Oliver Stone) mirrors the novel The Things They Carried (written by Tim O’Brien) from symbols to how the soldiers behaved and what they carried with them. The objects the men carried while on their long treacherous journey were closely related. Both illustrated men carrying pictures of their girlfriends, both had men carrying cigarettes and marijuana to smoke of the stress of the war. It was a way the men could forget that they were in a place that could be considered Hell. The men carried playing cards on them to pass the time and have something to do when they weren’t on duty. The obvious necessities carried were canteens of water, grenades, guns, ammunition, and so on. Both the movie and the book had a group of men fighting in the Vietnam War, also known as a platoon. In the movie the infantry was Taylor (Chris), Barnes, Elias, Bunny, O’Neil, Junior, etc, and in the novel Tim (O’Brien), Rat Kiley, Jimmy Cross, Henry Dobbins, Kiowa, and others. The movie and the novel are also seen and told from one person’s point of view -- Chris Taylor and Tim O’Brien. They both discussed the emotional turmoil and dangers involved with the human behavior when placed into difficult situations, such as the ones faced in the Vietnam War. They both expressed very accurate measures of the harsh effects that war played on these men, to the point where wrong seemed right, danger seemed safe, and the enemy wasn’t only the Vietnamese. One of the obvious similarities was a tragic death within the platoons. In Platoon the death of Elias and in The Things They Carried the death of Kiowa, both men possessed innocence and were decent men and it was apparent the death triggered an emotional stir within the platoons. Another noticeable comparison is that in both the movie and the novel one soldier has a picture of a girlfriend back home and he explains how he loves and misses her. In the novel, Jimmy Cross is the soldier who carries a picture and several letters from the women he loves as well as a pebble he kept in his mouth that she sent to him. His love for her caused more emotional uproar than the war did: "He was realistic about it. There was that new hardness in his stomach. He loved her but he hated her" (O’Brien24). The soldier in the movie carried several pictures of his girlfriend in attempt to close the distance and still feel some connection to the world he once knew.

Though there were quite a few resemblances, there were differences as well. In the movie the protagonist, Chris Taylor, willingly volunteers to face combat in the war while Tim O’Brien gets drafted and he is tied between the decision to either go to Nam or run away to Canada. His verdict puts him in the ghostly forests of Vietnam. Also, Tim O’Brien was shot and actually hospitalized while Chris Taylor didn’t face a scratch. In the movie, Chris murders Barnes (a member of his own platoon) because he sees the evil and savagery the war has played on him. Barnes actions cause Chris no other option, his life was at risk because of this man’s craving to win and Chris Taylor was only concerned about the safety of the platoon and getting out of war alive. Not only that, but the book was more descriptive and detailed about the lives and personalities of the soldiers outside of the war. One example is Henry Dobbins who, at all times, wore his girlfriend’s pantyhose around his neck to bring him a sense of tranquility and comfort. Even though his girlfriend dumps him later in the book, he still continues to wear them and insists that “the magic doesn’t go away” (O’Brien 102).

After reading O’Brien’s book and watching the movie it played a huge role on my outlook and emotions. I hope to never know what it’s like to face the hardships of war and I pray I never will. But it also made me realize how blessed I am to live in a country where men and women fight for MY freedom every day. I never comprehended what the soldiers went through and what they had to face and it gave me a greater appreciation for my life and the country I live in. So here’s a bible verse to the brave men and women out their fighting for me, my family and friends, but most importantly – my country: “For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God?—the God who equipped me with strength and made my way blameless. He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights. He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand supported me, and your gentleness made me great. You gave a wide place for my steps under me, and my feet did not slip.” Psalms 18:31-36

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