From Wall Street to Vietnam, in “Platoon” (1986) Oliver Stone takes viewers on a journey to Vietnam that he himself lived firsthand. During the film’s release, Platoon was regarded as possibly the best work of any kind about the Vietnam War. Oliver Stone took the film in a direction that dove into the immediate experience of the fighting and conflict by encapsulating the hellish life that infantrymen experienced on the ground, where thousands of young men dragged themselves through the rugged terrain of Vietnam surrounded by the foreign elements and exposed to numerous perils of war. The infantryman’s plight was well summarized with, “It’s better to get killed in the first couple of weeks. Otherwise, you just waste time worrying about it.”
Platoon is taken from the perspective of a small infantry platoon fighting near the Cambodian border. Not only is the larger war of Vietnam being fought, but there is also an internal clash of ideologies within the platoon. This clash occurs between the two competing leaders, Sergeant Elias, who stands up for his men and encourages a loose attitude and plenty of camaraderie. Sergeant Barnes, who is a high intensity, gun-ho, “Kill’em all’ kind of guy, is counter persona, an the epitome of all soldier stereotypes. The central theme revolving around this internal conflict is what type of persona a soldier should adopt to not only win a war, but also survive.
The platoon itself is divided with those who support Elias, but idolize Barnes. All of this is foreshadowing a future conflict between the two officers that occurs when Barnes shoots Elias, purposely committing friendly fire and lying to his platoon that the enemy killed Elias. This instance is one of the many manifestations of the stressors placed upon infantryman in Vietnam that eventually manifested themselves in inhumane violent actions.
Overall, I enjoyed the film but found some of the scenes over the top. However creating this sensation of war was Stone’s intention. Stone wanted to paint the realities of war onto the big screen canvas, similar to how he attempted to expose the lifestyles of greed and excess in the film Wall Street.