‘I Just Want to be Anonymous’: Looking Back on 1986’s Platoon (Spoilers Ahead)

There’s a feeling, not uncommon among people, to vanish into their surroundings, until, until, they’re at a level from which they can build themselves up and be seen for their own traits, strengths, and weaknesses.

Often, to do this, you’re among a cross-section of humanity from all walks of life and all predispositions towards life.

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(foreground to background) Stars Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe; director, Oliver Stone and; star Charlie Sheen at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival (Francois Guillot/GettyImages.com Photo and Caption)

Director Oliver Stone’s 1986 feature film, Platoon, echoes that among other ideas, during its concise 120 minute runtime.

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Director and screenwriter Oliver Stone with his Best Director Oscar for his 1986 feature film, Platoon (Oscars.org Photo and Caption)

Picking up our directorial-style thread and modus operandi, there were a few of director Stone’s trademarks in 1986’s Platoon, including the following:

  1. Stories about protagonists looking for prosperity, however bitterly: Echoing our previous review of 2016’s Snowden somewhat, and much like the likes 0f 1987’s Wall Street and 2010’s Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, involves protagonists trying to win something on their own merit; the means almost disqualify the end though.
  2. Events from Western history that are either uncomfortable or so depicted: Implying the likes of 1991’s JFK and 2016’s Snowden, the Vietnam War is depicted as an indiscriminate, bloody and horrifying conflict.
  3. A mixture of different styles of filming: Much like 1991’s JFK and 2016’s Snowden, in spirit anyways, there is a use of documentary-esque feel when the platoon is in the jungle whilst sweeping helicopter photography drives home the reality of 1986’s Platoon being a war film.

As always, please let us know in the comments if you spotted any other Stone-isms while watching 1986’s Platoon.

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(foreground-right) Director and screenwriter, Oliver Stone, seen on set for his 1986 feature film, Platoon (NYTimes.com Photo and Caption)

Running with the anonymity hook, the script and its cast of characters are such that Michael Sheen’s Chris Taylor is anonymous or off-screen for a fair chunk of the film’s runtime. That said, the story of the script starts with Chris landing in Vietnam and heading off for his patriotic duty and ends with him being rotated off due to, as noted by the team at Shmoop.com, the mandated end of his tour in Vietnam. That makes the film easy to follow albeit hard to keep track of Chris in.

As also noted by the team at Shmoop.com and backed up by our own observations, there is a lot of visual and literary metaphor present in 1986’s Platoon, not the least of which includes how Tom Berenger’s Barnes is seemingly vulnerable to only himself but is killed finally killed by Chris, who increasingly through the film, becomes like Barnes with shades of Willem Dafoe’s Elias.

There’s a great deal of commentary delving deeper into the fear of the subterranean, illustrated in the platoon’s repeated detonation of underground burrows across the jungle floor and the fear of things that dwell therein. We’ll pick up the rest of it in the cinematography commentary but before which…

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(from left to right) Stars Willem Dafoe and Tom Berenger; director, Oliver Stone; and star Charlie Sheen pictured at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival (Valery Hache/GettyImages.com Photo and Caption)

The cast’s core acting pair, impliedly indulging Chris’ need for anonymity, are Willem Dafoe’s Elias and Tom Berenger’s Barnes. The two of them ideologically pull at Michael Sheen’s Chris, with Chris coming to embody the latter with shades of the former. Speaking of ideology, both Dafoe’s Elias and Berenger’s Barnes, whilst offering some manner of comfort to their men at times, are unflappably their own people, answering to their own rules of war (or as in Berenger’s case and notion of being ‘reality‘ lack thereof).

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(from left to right) Composer Georges Delerue seen with French filmmaker Francois Truffaut (Roman Pleszyński on YouTube.com Photo and Caption)

The score, by composer Georges Delerue, is generally very restrained and dependent on strings arrangements over much else. It is definitely a presence in 1986’s Platoon but overshadowed by Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, nevertheless orchestrated and conducted by Georges Delerue, is the film’s, albeit borrowed, theme. From start to moment of tragedy until moment of tragedy until the film’s close, the Adagio for Strings broadcasts the film’s emotional weight, but subtly. Not unlike…

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(from left to centre) Director of Photography, Robert Richardson, and director, Oliver Stone, seen behind the camera  their 1995 feature film, Nixon (MovPins.com Photo and Caption)

The cinematography, courtesy of director of photography, Robert Richardson. There’s a haze, in equal parts jungle humidity and jet-thrust dust that pervades the atmosphere in 1986’s Platoon, an atmosphere that lends itself to a film where people are often more than the atmosphere around them (à la Elias) or not as much (à la Barnes).

Taking this a step further, the ground level-ness of 1986’s Platoon comes from its numerous shots of the jungle wildlife, jungle floor and leaves and trees and canopy of all kinds. That coupled with actors being dragged around in the mud and undergrowth with the camera, quite often, pointing further below at the burrows and hideaways.

Just before we wrap up, and taking a prior observed cue from Shmoop.com, the sanctity of worship (and lack thereof) amidst the war is, barring the blood, a stark reminder of how unrelenting the war around Chris really is. Even the church, alluded to as a place to retreat to, doesn’t offer much physical retreat in that vein.

A little simplistically again, director Oliver Stone’s 1986 feature film, Platoon, is atypical in that most of its cast want out of the war whilst many others don’t feel strongly either way, barring Barnes. The very ground-level cinematography mixed with a cast who want out to a life that seems better –  à la King’s ‘every day the rest of your life, gravy‘ line – make this more than a quest-within-a-war war film.

(Whilst the opinions and observations cited above are the author’s own, unless stated otherwise, the following sources were used to source facts: 22NovemberNetwork.Wordpress.com, AndSoItBeginsFilms.com, AVClub.com, IMDb.com, NYTimes.com, RogerEbert.com, Shmoop.com)

Plot and Act-by-Act Breakdown:

Plot: a young Army volunteer goes to Vietnam to do his patriotic duty and learn more about life.

Act 1: Taylor arrives in Vietnam; Taylor is sent on patrol with the platoon into the jungle.

Act 2: The resupply helicopter arrives; Taylor and company choose to return to the jungle to find an NVA Unit.

Act 3: Taylor takes up watch in the nighttime jungle; at his shift’s end, he decides to pass the duty to Junior.

Act 4: Taylor spots the NVA patrol in the nighttime jungle; Taylor decides, but fails, to use the mines to ward them off and he is hit.

Act 5: Taylor and the platoon decide to return to their base camp; Taylor relents to O’Neill’s pressure to clean the toilets.

Act 6: Taylor decides to accept King’s invitation to visit the ‘Underground‘; he decides to smoke marijuana and drink whilst there.

Act 7: Taylor and the platoon decide to return to the jungle on patrol; Taylor and the platoon choose to enter an NVA bunker that is, unknown to them, booby-trapped.

Act 8: Taylor and the platoon decide to invade the village downriver; Taylor decides to bully the villagers therein.

Act 9: Taylor decides to rescue two of the village girls from being raped; Taylor and the platoon later torch and abandon the village.

Act 10: Elias and Barnes square off in front of their officer; Taylor and the platoon decide to return to the jungle the next day.

Act 11: Taylor and the platoon are ambushed; Taylor just misses Barnes’ murder of Elias but decides to follow Barnes’ evacuation orders.

Act 12: Taylor decides to tell some soldiers about Elias’ murder at the hands of Barnes; Taylor later decides to fight Barnes but loses.

Act 13: Taylor and the platoon decide to return to the jungle and patrol the border regions; Taylor later decides to see King off as he leaves.

Act 14: The NVA ambush begins; Taylor decides to detonate the explosives in the jungle and later decides to go out into the jungle.

Act 15: Taylor and the platoon are rendered unconscious by the aerial bombing run; Taylor later wakes up, finds a wounded Barnes and kills him.

Act 16: Taylor is found by a South Vietnamese patrol; Taylor is evacuated from the jungle and, impliedly, sent home.

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