Platoon (1986) – Movie Review

Platoon (1986) movie portrays the realities that ordinary soldiers are bound to encounter in the battlefield. It particularly focuses on the Vietnam War (1962-1975) and narrates the accounts of individual members of one of the platoons of soldiers that are sent to secure the American Battlefront in the war. Chris Tylor, the narrator of the story, has just given up his college education in order to participate in the War. He sees it as his patriotic duty to serve his country in combat. However, he is quick to discover that he is not as useful as he thought he would be on the battlefield because of his inexperience. His presence is thus non-essential to his platoon.

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            Owing to his incompetence, Tylor is overwhelmed by the effects of the combat. The audience is quick to notice this when he passes out during his initial tour. Elias (Willem Dafoe) helps him to recuperate and tells him that he has carried many unwanted items for the kind of patrol that that they are doing. Nevertheless, he is not the only green and inexperienced soldier in the platoon. Even Lieutenant Wolf, the leader of his battalion, is not as professional as his subordinates and does not do much when it comes to leading the troop. The soldiers prefer to defer to two of his more experienced subordinates: the ill-tempered sergeant Robert “Bob” Barnes, and the more compliant Sergeant Elias.

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            The carnage and donkeywork involved in every patrol devastate Tylor and his green colleagues heavily. When he is sent out with Elias, Barnes, and other Veteran soldiers on several ambushes and patrols, he gets injured in the turmoil and witnesses his fellow colleagues being killed by unseen assailants and hidden booby traps at the war front. At one point, Tylor experiences a scuffle between his platoon and the Vietnamese villagers. Barnes aggressively interrogates a village chief, asking him whether the village has been aiding the enemy (NVA). Shortly, he cold-bloodedly shoots the chief’s wife when she retorts back at him, something that causes a scuffle between him and Elias. Although Lieutenant Wolf helps to separate the two, another disagreement ensues when some of the men in Barnes’ infantry try to gang rape two girls. Tylor is infuriated by the attempt and decides to prevent the misconduct courageously.

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As the war continues, Tylor undergoes a psychological meltdown after he discovers the horrors and bloodbath of the war. The movie soon climaxes when his Platoon is drawn into a heavy combat and when sergeant Wolfe accidentally directs an artillery strike on his colleagues. Barnes instructs the group to retreat and shoots Elias, after which he returns to base and tells the other soldiers that Elias has been killed by the enemy. Later, Tylor discovers that Barnes was responsible for Elias’ death after he notices his anxious state. These are not the only acts of terror that he faces. He is injured, assaulted and ordered by a senior to kill his own colleague. In the end, he witnesses his only surviving colleague Francis stabbing himself in the leg, just so he can be relieved from the battlefield. Only the two survive the battle. 

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Context

            Platoon is an American anti-war film that was made in 1986. It was directed by Oliver Stone, one of the people who had actively participated in the war. Through the film, he tries to recount and acknowledge the heartbreak and horrors or war by letting the conflict between the United States and Vietnam provide the plot. The typical elements that make Platoon an anti-war film include personal heroism, camp and infantry experiences, the immense brutalities, and the warfare in general. Oliver also portrays several themes including the effects of war, stories of escapades and survival, the futility of war, inhumanity of battlegrounds, sacrifices, and struggles. Hence, the movie tries to show the terrors of war and the physical and psychological struggles that the soldiers and the affected populations undergo.

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Use of History

            Platoon is a direct representation of the events of the Vietnam War as experienced in tropical Vietnam from 1967 to 1968. The meaning of platoon is adequately characterized by the composition of Tylor’s infantry group, which is led by Lieutenant Wolf, Sergeant Robert “Bob” Barnes, and Sergeant Elias. The soldiers are involved in combat in the middle of dense foliage and a landscape that perfectly depicts that of the real battleground in Vietnam. From the illustrations of the clothing, monsoon, Vietnamese architecture, furnishings, weapons (M16), to the insects, the movie tries to accurately mimic the actual environment as seen in tropical Vietnam during the war. What is more, the frequent drug abuse in which the soldiers engage in order to heal their souls and alleviate the psychological effects of the war is precisely shown in the movie.  The final and significant guarantee of Platoon’s accuracy in depicting the history of the Vietnam War is the director himself. Oliver Stone was an infantryman during the actual period for 14 months, between 1967 and 1968. Thus, I find the film historically accurate and representative of the shocks of the war.

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Personal Assessment

            I find the images of Platoon quite powerful and exemplary when it comes to educating the audience about the realities of war. It was just after watching that I realized that I had just overlooked the technical aspects of the film, which means that it is completely engrossing. Additionally, Oliver Stone captures the war impeccably without leaving the details by the use of a well-inclusive storyline and accurate symbols of the actualities of the Vietnam War. As such, I would gladly recommend this movie to my fellow students and friends because it is educative, entertaining, and awakening.

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