Good Morning Vietnam!

Good Morning Vietnam! (1987) follows the story of Adrian Cronauer (Rob Williams), a Radio DJ for the Armed Forces Radio Service of the United States in Saigon, Vietnam in 1965. Cronauer’s sole job is to “send the troops to work laughing” and boost overall morale. Rob Williams spontaneous wit, quirky personality and ability to blend these elements with more serious undertones makes him a perfect fit for the role.

Cronauer’s behavior is by no means confined by the traditional army guidelines that have left the airwaves in Vietnam controlled by monotone, dull, and just plain annoying DJ’s with no sense of comedy or taste in good music that the soldiers would appreciate. There is no better contrast to the different personality types at work than when Cronauer begins his first broadcast and lets out that famous screeching call, “Gooooood Mooooorning Vietnam!”

First Broadcast

Within the comical ranting’s of Cronauer (Williams), there are clear serious undertones to the jokes that also have callings to the real-world implications of how the war in Vietnam was fought.  Often in the form of faux dialogue between himself and numerous fictitious personalities that Cronauer had created, Cronauer would ask about numerous aspects of the war. These questions included everything from asking how G.I’s should dress, which Cronauer’s flamboyantly gay personality would respond “I know a certain GI who is wearing green this fall, why? Because it matches with everything else out here!”, to questioning military intelligence and the progression of the war by answering with the clearly dim-witted Army Intelligence Officer persona, that responds with “We can’t find the enemy, so we ask people if they’re the enemy and if they say yes, we shoot them.”

Army Intelligence

The film itself takes numerous thematic directional turns that take Cronauer out of the setting of the broadcast studio and out into the city of Saigon, where we as an audience get to witness both the hilarious antics and the sincere interactions that Cronauer has with the native Vietnamese. One of the most humanizing aspects of Cronauer, that clearly encapsulates his and Robin Williams love of life, is the English teaching role he assumes in an effort to win the heart over a Vietnamese girl. In the process of teaching the class, Cronauer teaches the Vietnamese more “practical” English that involves numerous swear words and phrases with outrageously hilarious outcomes, but also establishes long lasting relationships with the Vietnamese in his class, in particularly with the brother of the girl he was trying to date.

Up until halfway into the film, Cronauer had yet to experience any of the horrors of Vietnam and had been living the war essentially from his broadcast studio. However this all changes drastically when terrorist attacks in Saigon begin to escalate. One of Cronauer’s favorite hangout spots, a local bar the GI’s call “Jimmys”, is blown up nearly seconds after he walks out of the building, killing a handful of people and wounding dozens.

Overall this is a must see Robin Williams film. The film manages to maintain a balance of both satirical and serious portrayals of the Vietnam War,  by controlling the blending of comedy with the realities of war to tell a story of the struggles of Adrian Cronauer during his time in Saigon. I have purposely left a lot of the film’s content out of this blog post as I do not want to give away too many spoilers in hopes that people will go and watch the film.

Full Metal Jacket: “It looks like what we have here, is a failure to communicate!”

 

 

Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket is another iconic Vietnam War era film from the 80’s that is famously known for the colorful remarks of the Senior Drill Instructor, Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey), and Kubrick’s portrayal of the grotesque, realistic, and non-romanticized occurrences of war.

The film begins at boot camp, where Gunnery Sergeant Hartman is in the process of turning recruits into well-disciplined, hardened Marines who are prepared for combat, by employing the typical draconian tactics of shouting slurries of insults in the direction of the new recruits and the occasional use of physical force. Unfortunately for one bumbling and clumsy recruit, Leonard Lawrence, who later receives the name of “Gomer Pyle”, attracts the wrath of the Drill Sergeant. Pyle’s torment persists throughout the recruits’ time at boot camp from not only the Drill Sergeant, but also his fellow recruits as well because of the “collective punishment” policy where every mistake Pyle made, the platoon was punished and not Pyle. Eventually, the rest of the platoon gangs up on Pyle during a hazing ritual, beating him with bars of soap wrapped in towels in the middle of the night.

Before even stepping into the Vietnam War, the audience is given a glimpse into what the formation of a soldier entails. In the case of Vietnam, majority of the recruits had no business, nor had any desire to be in the military, but by law of the draft were forced into service. Vast majorities were unable to deal with even the psychological abuse in boot camp and experienced mental breakdowns. This is demonstrated in the film when Pyle, fed up with his abuse, shoots his drill sergeant and then commits suicide.

One of the most important scenes in the film is a later scene between one of the original recruits, (Joker) who is confronted by a colonel on the battlefield about why he is wearing a piece symbol on his body armor, and a helmet with the inscription “Born to Kill”. Joker responds with a philosophical answer, “I think I was trying to suggest something about the duality of man”. Joker’s answer summarizes the clear moral dichotomy of war that is presented in Full Metal Jacket.

 One of the more disturbing scenes in the film that captures the undiscriminating brutality of war, is when Joker and Rafter Man are being transported in a helicopter to the Tet Offensive Front and the door gunner is shooting at civilians in the rice fields, yelling “Get some” as men, women and children are struck by bullets. Sickened by what they are witnessing, Joker questions the man, “How could you shoot women and children?” To which the door gunner responds, “Easy, you just don’t lead’em so much! Ha ha ha… Ain’t war hell?”. If that’s not the mark of a psychopath, I don’t know what is.

“Get Some!”

Overall, Full Metal Jacket is another fantastic Stanley Kubrick film that brings yet another viewpoint and different film style of the Vietnam War to the big screen.

Platoon

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.