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The other side of the story- but is it realistic Mr Stone?
on 20 November 2000
It's interesting how this film is set up to be the conclusion to the Vietnam War trilogy in which Oliver Stone investigates three sides of the story- the young recruit (Platoon), the returning veteran (Born on the 4th July), and now finally Heaven and Earth. One might believe that this is a chance for the Vietnam ese to tell thei sode of the story, and to be fair to Stone, there is a heavy emphasis, at least initially of the homeliness of the Vientamese paddy fields and villages, and an other-worldliness to the American presence. Essentially, the film charts the progress of Le Ly from her early days throught the years of the American 'police action', her travels to America, and her return to Vietnam.
But what is really interesting about the conbcept of this film is that it is set up to be a wholly different interpretation of the war, from a Vienamese (not American), native (not Invading), female (not Male) individual (not collective). In this respect, some of the first half of the film does dwell on the consequences of war on females (rather than recruits or vets). However, the place where this film encounters very shaky ground is where Le Ly's life is very much expressed in a masculine fashion. Her actions in Vietnam are masculine-oriented; when she reaches America, the narrative is dominated by her returning Marine husband, and his struggle (and failure) to reconcile the past; and when she finally returns to Vietnam, there is none of the cathartic experience that Platoon and B4July try to invoke- Le Ly is as alien as she was at the very beginning of the film.
There has been much debate over of the remasculinsation of America in the aftermath of the Vietnam conflict, and much of this debate has centred on the expression of this socio-political change through cultural forms such as film and television. Stone has always claimed to be an avowedly realistic director, provoking contoversy over blue-on-blues and veterans' rights. but in his attempts to portray 'the other side', he was always fighting an losing battle, simply because it would be nigh-on impossible for a Hollywood director (regardless of how independent), subject to Western, capitalist, masculine discourse, to replicate and represent the true view on life for the Vietnamese. But then whose truth am I talking about? As we all know, the victors write the history books and therefore have a monopoly on 'truth', and if President Clinton's Godlike welcome to Saigon yesterday was anything to go by, it is the Americans who have won after 35 years of trying.