Cinema and War: Filmic Representations of the Vietnam War

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In 1954, the Geneva Conference, whose objective was the unification of Vietnam, which did not happen. Vietnam, then, was divided into two parts: the south, with capitalist characteristics; and the north, communist.

The beginning of the Vietnam war started with the non-compliance with the Geneva Conference. However, the main reasons for the conflict were ideological: the bloc of capitalist countries, led by the United States of America, declared hegemony over the bloc of communist countries, which had the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) as main country.

North Vietnam, which supported communist ideology, was supported by China and the Soviet Union (communists); and South Vietnam, under the influence of capitalist ideology, found itself in a dictatorship financed by the United States, aimed at preventing communist expansion. The conflict started from this clash of ideologies (capitalism vs. communism), characterized by the rise of the Cold War after World War II.

The Vietnam War was very marked in the history of the conflicts in which the United States participated, as the Vietnamese waged a huge victory over US troops, 'smearing' the image of America's military strength in the century XX. It is important to emphasize that the press actively participated in the war, portraying the ills and violence of the conflict.

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Initially the movie theater exercised a critical reflection on the conflict; but later some cinematographic works helped in the construction of a capitalist ideology about the war. In the year 1979, the film director Francis Ford Coppola directed the classic movie “Apocalypse Now”. Such film conveyed to us the voracity of a war, the influence that war has on people, madness, folly, hatred, contempt. The director demonstrated an unrestrained act by the Americans, who at the same time as they claimed thousands of Vietnamese lives, also lost several young people in the conflict.

In 1986, the director Oliver Stone released the movie “Platoon”. Stone used the same bias as Coppola when he tried to demonstrate madness, violence and carnage without sense of war, demonstrating that the horrors of war surpass any national feeling, of patriotism. The two films constituted a harsh criticism of the US military policy and capitalist ideology.

In the 1980s, however, the American film industry released the film ‘Rambo I’, from the principal Ted Kotcheff – later would be released ‘Rambo II’, ‘Rambo III' and Rambo IV’. All of them would have a different approach than Stone and Coppola presented. Rambo's sequels were produced to affirm capitalist ideology and US military strength. Only one soldier would fight and defeat all the Vietcong. In the films, the proposal for the construction of a representation of communists as violent, inhuman is clear; while the Rambo, on the contrary, would represent courage, human ethical and moral value, the savior of humanity.

However, we can understand how the ideological dispute is always present in the most varied spheres of life. The film industry that criticized the violence and massacre of the Vietnam War is not so well known by the population: few people know the movies “Apocalypse Now” and “Platoon”; unlike the movie Rambo and its most varied versions. If you ask anyone from the West who was born in the 1980s, few will say they don't know Rambo's sequel. Thus, the ideological war continues to reproduce the image of the Viet Cong as evil, inhuman and terrorist.

Leandro Carvalho
Master in History

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