Southern Comfort (1981)
Frequently Asked Questions
They are Louisiana Cajuns. Present-day Cajuns are descendants of the French-speaking Acadians from the Canadian maritime provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island (collectively known as Acadia). In the Great Upheaval of 1755-1763, around 13,000 Acadians (75% of the population) were deported, and many of these people settled in the south of French-controlled Louisiaine. France had ceded the colony to Spain in 1762, but the Spanish governor at the time of the Acadians' arrival allowed them to continue speaking their own language, practising their own religion and native customs, and living their lives largely as they had done prior to leaving Acadia. The Acadians initially settled along the Mississippi, but soon moved west to an area which became known as Acadiana (the area of swamp lands with which present-day Cajuns are unjustly synonymous). The Cajuns remained relatively isolated until early in the 20th century, at which time attempts were made to suppress their culture. For example, the Compulsory Education Act of 1922 forced Cajun children to attend public schools, where they were often threatened and beaten by teachers for not speaking English. The Act was rescinded in 1925.
Shortly after settling in Louisiana, the original Acadian settlers had intermarried with numerous other ethnicities (British, Irish, Spanish, German, Italian, Native American, Greek and Creoles), creating a hugely diversified bloodline and highly unique dialect (as is mentioned in the film, Cajun French is nothing like Metropolitan French). The Acadians' dialect mainly derived from the areas of Anjou and Poitou in France, and when it began to mingle with the languages of the various other ethnicities which were assimilated into their culture, it began to change, eventually leading to what is today known as Cajun French (the language spoken in the film). In 1968, the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL) was founded to help preserve the Cajun French language in that region.
Private Spencer (Keith Carradine): escapes the swamps.
Corporal Harden (Powers Boothe): escapes the swamps.
Staff Sergeant Poole (Peter Coyote): shot in the head by a Cajun hunter whilst attempting to cross a lake using the Cajuns' boats
Corporal Reece (Fred Ward): stabbed by Harden after Harden caught him torturing the trapper (Brion James)
Private Simms (Franklyn Seales): shot by the Cajuns in the swamp
Private Cribbs (T.K. Carter): impaled on a Cajun trap
Private Stuckey (Lewis Smith): drowns in quicksand after attempting to get the attention of a US helicopter scanning the area
Sergeant Casper (Les Lannom): shot by the Cajuns in the swamp
Corporal "Coach" Bowden (Carlos Brown): is found hanging from a bridge.
Bowden is the only member of the platoon about which there is any doubt concerning his death. Because his death takes place off screen, the question (as is asked in the film) is did he hang himself or did the Cajuns hang him? The main argument against the theory that the Cajuns killed him, is that if they were able to sneak into the camp, take Bowden and string him up, then why didn't they just kill Harden and Spencer as well. This argument is often countered by suggesting that they were toying with Harden and Spencer, playing mind games with them. However, this is in turn countered with the argument that they weren't interested in mind games, they simply wanted the soldiers dead. Additionally, in support of the theory that Bowden hung himself, one has to remember that over the course of the film, he becomes increasingly insane and unstable, refusing to talk and acting erratically. Having said that however, one has to keep in mind that Bowden is all but comatose toward the end of the film, and the argument could be made that he would have been unable to sneak off, find a rope, find the bridge, and commit suicide.
It is called "Parlez-nous à boire" ("Let's Talk About Drinking"), and is sung by well known Cajun musician Dewey Balfa. You can listen to a slightly different version of the song than the one heard in the film here. As an aside, some people have commented on the similarities between the music of "Parlez-nous à boire" and Hollywood Beyond's "What's the Color of Money?" (from the 1986 Martin Scorsese film The Color of Money (1986)). That's because the chorus of "What's the Color of Money?" samples the music of "Parlez-nous à boire".
There is considerable debate about this scene amongst fans, who tend to fall into one of two categories: (1) the slow motion is simply to increase the tension prior to the reveal that the truck is a US military vehicle, and hence Spencer and Harden are saved; (2) the slow motion indicates that although the truck is a US military vehicle, it has been high-jacked by the Cajuns, and hence Spencer and Harden are doomed. Most fans subscribe to the first theory; that the scene is simply shot the way it is to increase tension, to psychologically place the audience in the same mindset as the characters themselves, who are unsure what is coming around the corner. This argument suggests that the look exchanged between Spencer and Harden just prior to the reveal that it is a US truck is simply an acknowledgment that they are saved, a silent communication between the two recognizing that they have survived. Some fans argue, however that the scene is not that simple. Their argument is based upon the belief that the Cajuns killed the National Guardsmen who were out looking for Bravo team, and then stole the truck, and it is they who are driving into the village, and hence the look between Spencer and Harden is an acknowledgment that they may as well stop running, their time has come.
Some fans argue that in the scene where the truck comes around the corner, if you look very closely, you can see that a man with a white beard is driving the vehicle. As National Guardsmen would not be allowed to have beards, the implication is that the driver is a Cajun. Other fans argue however, that you cannot see whether the driver has a beard or not, but you can see that he is wearing military fatigues, hence is a National Guardsman, and Spencer and Harden are safe. In relation to this particular argument, using the 2006 Optimum Classics DVD, which has a digitally remastered picture, it is quite clear that the driver of the truck is both clean shaven and wearing military clothing, seemingly implying that Spencer and Hardin are safe, and the slow motion is simply to increase tension. Any theories beyond this point as regards the Cajuns stealing the truck are, as such, pure speculation without any evidence provided by the film itself.
Southern Comfort was released in the United States in 1981, although it is set in 1973. US forces withdrew from Vietnam in January 1973, after the signing of the Paris Peace Accords, which officially brought the conflict to an end. As such, the film is set immediately after this withdrawal, with the moral of the US army at its lowest ebb. Additionally, when the film was made in 1980/1981, the US was still in the midst of a collective post-war angst, finding it difficult to accept the crushing defeat which it had experienced at the hands of the, apparently, inferior Vietnamese. As such, both the date of the film's setting (the immediate disappointment of defeat) and the date of its release (the long-term ramifications of defeat) are relatable to the conflict.
The argument that the film is a metaphorical depiction of Vietnam primarily concerns the depiction of poorly trained, ill equipped, overtly aggressive US Soldiers being in a territory where they don't belong and being butchered by a more skilled, but technologically inferior enemy who knows the terrain and is able to use it to their advantage. The film depicts an alien swamp (a substitute for the jungles of Vietnam), and a group of soldiers fighting an enemy they cannot see and a culture they cannot understand. The soldiers are in fundamentally "Other" territory, out of their depth and unable to deal with the simple tools of the Cajuns (such as the bear traps and the impaler). All of this has obvious parallels to the Vietnam conflict, where the US army were seen as being in a similar situation; a group of overtly aggressive soldiers fighting an invisible enemy on a battleground they could't get to grips with, and in the midst of a culture they could not (or would not) understand.
Continuing the metaphor, the soldiers are depicted as not properly trained, not psychologically ready for combat, and lacking in discipline and motivation. They are without proper leadership (after Poole is killed), and they completely disregard the rituals and culture of the native people who they encounter, feeling they have the right to ride roughshod over these people for no reason other than the fact that they are US soldiers. Stucky's fatal decision to fire the blanks at the Cajuns is itself a metaphor for the actions of many soldiers in Vietnam, unconcerned with the ramifications of their actions, ignorant of the impact their actions may have on the local people, and ultimately shocked that their actions prompt resistance.
The film also incorporates the sense of paranoia which was a major factor during Vietnam. The soldiers are being hunted and summarily executed by an unseen enemy, never 100% sure who that enemy is, and when and how they will strike next. This uncertainty creates fear, which in turn creates paranoia. As already explained, ignorance is also paramount amongst the men. Ignorance and paranoia is a deadly combination, as not only do the soldiers find themselves unable to understand the Cajuns, they actually misunderstand them. This situation is most obvious in Harden's interpretation of the innocent goings on in the village at the end of the film. He sees the men stringing up hangmen ropes, sharpening knives etc, and he automatically assumes something terrible is going to happen, that the whole village is in on the hunt, and everyone is part of a conspiracy to kill the soldiers. This type of unfounded paranoia, born of fear and ignorance, is often blamed for such real life incidents as the Mỹ Lai Massacre.
Furthermore, to attribute a thematic point to the Vietnam metaphor, the Cajuns in the film, although they are ostensibly the antagonists, are not the traditional "bad guys" of classic filmic narrative. As the Trapper says towards the end of the film, they are simply protecting their home (although it could be argued that they do take that sense of protection to an extreme) from an intrusive, unwanted and inconsiderate invader. As such, the intention of the film seems to be for the audience to have at least some empathy with the people whose territory is being invaded, an interpretation which could be extended into the political arena and suggests the film is in fact sympathetic towards the native Vietnamese people.
Interestingly however, writer/director has down played the Vietnam connection. In a 2009 interview, Hill stated that we were very aware that people were going to see it as a metaphor for Vietnam. The day we had the cast read, before we went into the swamps, I told everybody, "People are going to say this is about Vietnam. They can say whatever they want, but I don't want to hear another word about it." If you know about Vietnam, you can make those connections, but the story certainly stands on its own. And Vietnam is hardly the oppressive presence today that it was in 1980. The story becomes much more universal. here]
The soundtrack itself was never released, however, the theme is available on a Ry Cooder compilation called Music by Ry Cooder. Additionally, the Cajun fiddler, Dewey Balfa, has many recordings out, both solo and as one of the Balfa Brothers, or with other family members.
The R1 US DVD released by MGM Home Entertainment in 2001 has no special features other than the theatrical trailer. The original R2 UK DVD, released by Universal Home Entertainment (UK) in 2001 features the theatrical trailer, but the film is 1.33:1. The film was re-released in the UK in 2006 by Optimum Releasing. This DVD has the correct aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and also features the theatrical trailer. Additionally, although it isn't advertised on the box, the picture has been digitally remastered.
Yes, it is. The UK edition released by Second Sight in 2012 features an interview with Walter Hill. This version is Region B locked. The US edition released by Shout! Factory in 2014 features a stills gallery, the theatrical trailer, a retrospective documentary and a DVD copy of the film. The Blu-ray disc is Region A locked.