I am a fan of several movies about the Vietnam War: Apocalypse Now and its companion piece Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, Coming Home, The Deer Hunter, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, We Were Soldiers, and even The Post.
There are also some not-so-great movies about the Vietnam War: Born on the Fourth of July, Hamburger Hill, The Boys in Company C, The Green Berets, Casualties of War, and Good Morning Vietnam, to name a few.
But standing head and shoulders above all this fiction, good and bad, is The Vietnam War, by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.
This ten-part series originally produced for PBS is a definitive work about the Vietnam War.
I first got a taste of this in 2017 on Netflix, where it was a limited run, but recently bought the DVD box set and rewatched it, and it is amazing. It is unflinchingly candid about the war from start to finish, and brutally honest about how horrible it was. Yet at the same time, it seems fair and unbiased, an even and difficult account of what might have been one of America’s darkest chapter.
Never mind that the main musical score is by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Never mind that there is a full-screen view of my newspaper in Episode 4. Never mind that it took 10 years and $30 million to complete.
It hits so hard that despite wanting to, I couldn’t unhear some of the most difficult things human beings can utter, like, “My hatred for them was pure. Pure. I hated them so much. And I was so scared of them. Boy, I was terrified of them. And the scareder of them I got, the more I hated them.”
I’ll leave that last quote un-cited because it is so brilliant, true, and universal.
Part of the difficulty in watching a series like this is that it becomes tedious and difficult to watch through to the finish, especially since it is so densely packed. This is ironic, because everything about the war itself was tedious and difficult to watch. Are we so weak and shielded from human nature that we can’t watch depictions of what our fellow human beings actually did?
After a full watching the second time through, though, I have to say that The Vietnam War goes near the top of my recommendations list.