Level 16 - Colossus
Religion is a canopy under which American culture and society thrives. Its extension reaches the boundaries of such cultural mainstreams as movies, television, and music. Oliver Stone's 1986 war film Platoon is an example of the religious subtleties and overtones that appear in various American genres. Stone not only uses religious themes to portray the Vietnam War, but manipulates the war to show the decadence of American society. Throughout history, man has traveled the world, and conquered nations, in order to force one religion on another. America was founded by Spain's attempt to spread Christianity to the new world. Although Spain was the most powerful nation at the time, their attempt to spread Christianity on less civilized people came to a fatal end due to the explorers' detrimental actions. The movie Platoon reenacts this theme in a modern true life event. After World War II, America demonstrated itself to be arguably the most powerful nation. When communism threatened Vietnam, America acted to defend its democratic belief by sending troops over to thwart the communist attempts. Stone uses the war to portray the failed attempt due to the exploits of the American soldiers. In one scene, Barnes (Tom Berenger) and Bunny (Kevin Dillon), mercilessly kill several innocent villagers. Later in the same scene, some soldiers are caught raping a village woman. The actions taken by the soldiers are Stone's comparison to the Spanish explorers' actions, which finally led to both nation's failed expeditions. To add depth to his religious allegories, Stone not only uses historical references, but opens it to Biblical contexts as well. According to the Bible, the garden of Eden is a paradise, often pictured in a jungle-like atmosphere. In Platoon, Stone uses the jungles of Vietnam to represent the mystic garden of Eden. Stone's underlying intent is to parallel the fall of man with American destruction in the Vietnamese jungle. When Adam and Eve committed man's first sin, Eden no longer held the sanctum of holiness, thus began the fall of man. Like Adam and Eve, America set itself on a stage for the world to see, and lost credibility due to their malevolent actions. Unlike the previous wars that America participated in, the Vietnam war was, for the most part, an independent mission. America sent over thousands of troops, comprised mainly of very young men, who were green to the experience of life, much less war. One of the young men was Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen), who came to the war on his own accord. It is in this setting, the same as Adam in Eden, that Chris comes to lose his innocence towards life. Chris's tenure in Vietnam exposes him to experiences with drugs, killing, and brutality, which signifies his lost innocence, and spiritual downfall. The same can be said for the other men in Chris's platoon, who came over to war young to reluctantly lose their innocence early. Along with a religious backdrop, Stone uses symbolism to create his version of the controversial 1970's war. One of the major symbols involved that of the characters Barnes and Elias, played by Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe, respectively. Their characters symbolized the Biblical personalities of Cain and Abel. According to the Bible, Cain and Abel were the first brothers of the earth. Driven by jealousy, Cain later kills off his brother Abel. In wars, a bond of brotherhood is created by serving in combat together. Elias and Barnes survived several years of combat, making them the more experienced members, and in a sense "brothers". Later in the movie, while the platoon is being ambushed, Barnes "frags" Elias due to previous differences. When Cain betrayed Abel, the ground saturated by Abel's blood, cried out to God, thus condemning Cain for life. After Elias was shot by Barnes, Elias managed to run out to the field, saturated with his own blood, for the American troops in the helicopters to see, thus condemning Barnes in the eyes of his platoon. This Biblical allegory Stone uses in the movie portrays America's irreverence for the sanctity of family bond. Stone's interpretation of the Vietnam war was not only driven by the events that transpired during the war, but many religious aspects also. The movie was not only ground breaking in the sense that it represented a neutral view of America versus Communism, but it was insightful to the religious undertones of all wars. By using religious themes throughout key parts of the movie, Stone illustrates the decadence that American society is heading towards. This decadence is one factor that led to the American ineffectiveness in Vietnam.