1978 • The Deer Hunter

The Deer Hunter, 1979About six years ago at college, I went to visit a friend and walked into the living room just as they were finishing up the last fifteen minutes of The Deer Hunter. I sat and watched, figuring I’d never see the movie anyway and it wouldn’t ruin anything for me.  Well, Sunday night Lauren and I sat down to watch 1978’s Best Picture winner, The Deer Hunter. Ending ruined!

The Deer Hunter was as disturbing of a movie as I’ve seen in this project.  Lauren and I both were left halfway speechless by the end of the three-hour, three-minute film.  This movie is clearly one of those like All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) or Patton (1970) that I can appreciate but didn’t particularly enjoy.  Every so often there’s one of those movies that I realize wasn’t supposed to be a fun experience and is supposed to leave the viewer numb.

With an all-star cast of Robert DeNiro, Meryl Streep, and Christopher Walken, The Deer Hunter takes a look at three Pennsylvania steel mill workers who decide to enlist in the army and fight for the US in Vietnam.  The movie begins with the wedding of one of the men, Steven (John Savage) and Angela.  We see everyone having fun at the wedding dance, and then the scene suddenly switches to Vietnam where all Steven, Michael (DeNiro), and Nicky (Walken) are right in the line of fire.  They are all taken prisoner and forced to play Russian roulette by the sadistic guards.  This horrifying experience pretty much ruins everyone’s lives from there on.  Only two of the three ever return home and none are ever the same.

The Russian roulette scenes were borderline unwatchable.  There’s a 1-in-6 chance the player is going to kill himself, and on several occasions in the movie we see the very graphic scenes of blood gushing out of their skulls.  I read later that Robert DeNiro insisted on filming these scenes with a live bullet in the revolver to add intensity to the scenes.

Another interesting fact from the movie is actor John Cazale was dying of cancer during the filming, so his scenes were all shot first.  His fiancee, Meryl Streep, and director Michael Cimino both fought the producers to keep Cazale in the film, threatening to walk away from the production.  Sure enough, Cazale died shortly thereafter.

Overall, this movie was really well done and very powerful, but like I said, I wasn’t particularly entertained.  The drawn-out wedding scenes in the first act, and some of the gruesome war scenes in the second act brought this down a little on my rankings.  But the third act showing Michael’s return home reminded me a lot of one of my favorites from this project, The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). For now, I have The Deer Hunter ranked 26th of 47.

Next up, it’s more Meryl in 1979’s Kramer vs. Kramer.


  1. […] a delicious chicken dinner and we watched the next movie in our Best Picture series, 1978’s The Deer Hunter. All around, a very busy weekend but quite a bit of […]

  2. The friendship between the three central characters, as well as their shared association with the men from their small hometown, is truthful and realistic in a way that most guys will find impossible to resist. Check out my review when you can!

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