American (anti)war film — Sanitized view of reality
This text offers a concise critical overview of the history of Hollywood war and antiwar film, with an emphasis on films about the Vietnam war. The main theses of the text are that American (anti)war films offer a sanitized view of war. Classical Hollywood war film — especially those about World War II — described war as a stage for heroism and proving ground for patriotism. War is represented in its (bloody) authenticity only in films by those directors who witnessed the war (World War II, Vietnam) first hand, that is to say, as soldiers — in the works by Samuel Fuller (The Big Red One) or Oliver Stone (Platoon). »Vietnam« films like Apocalypse Now and The Deer Hunter caused the fall of the classical, nationalist matrix (incarnated in the person of John Wayne), because Vietnam war erased the simplistic division on villains and heroes, and changed the way American public viewed American foreign policy. These films also terminated influence of the state policy on the indoctrinating quality of Hollywood films. However, even in »Vietnam« films »their« war was presented authentically by submitting history to Hollywood narrative conventions. Since in the case of this war there was no »simple«, for the American side positive history, the war was presented as »wishfullfilment« — hence the melodramatic tone of most of these films, which made it possible to turn a historical defeat into a glamorous victory, from simpler and less believable form and transformation in films with Sylvester Stallone and Chuck Norris, to more complex forms that transcended conflicts between history and a wish to preserve national identity with the identification of the viewer with the protagonist. The identification was achieved through the standard need of the male subject, for whom war represented a transition to maturity, which often included death of the metaphoric father figure, and a critical dissociation from the war, whose authenticity was related with synchronized narration, or sometimes with documentaristic methods (Charlie Mopic, Bat 21). This enabled the viewer to participate with a critical moral attitude without assuming any political or civic responsibility. Vietnam perspective of resistance to the aggressor remained outside the presentational framework, pushed in the position of the Second, while the true context of the Vietnam war remained unspoken.