I don't usually like war movies, at all. Platoon was an unexpected exception. Oliver Stone's first of three Vietnam War films, for me it really came down to an educational expose of the psychological trauma unique to war. With an all-star ensemble cast, the performances were exceptional. From what I have read, this can be attributed to training from a retired Marines Captain as well as director Oliver Stone's personal history as a Vietnam soldier. I believe Platoon to be an accurate representation of war on a micro scale, but not a macro one- any and all of these events could have and probably did happen at some time during the war, but it is unlikely that this much could happen between such a small number of men in such a short amount of time. The protagonist is played by none other than a young Charlie Sheen at his prime. Taylor's words of wisdom throughout the film are a testament to the long lasting effects of war. Veterans have a stereotype personality: more often than not, someone more logical than emotional; a lover of order, rules, and regimen; individuals willing to sacrifice for the greater good; a cool, collected, logical decision maker and leader even under high-pressure circumstances. As with all stereotypes, it is rooted in truth. Studies have shown that individuals attracted to the military tend to, overall, be a little less agreeable, extroverted, and friendly than those who do not seek it out. One study in particular finds them to be "more aggressive", "interested in competition rather than cooperation", and "less concerned about the feelings of others". These particular personality traits, whereas obviously not so great for romantic relationships or for forming lasting friendships, are often an asset in career success. For example, these individuals are more likely to make the difficult decisions sometimes necessary for success.
Psychologists claim that our personalities do not change dramatically over the course of our lifetime. Interestingly, the military is one of the only exceptions to this, as various research has shown. An exception, though, that couldn't be more understandable. After all, what one experience is more immersive, uncompromising, and invasive? A prominent aim of military training is to disseminate your preconceptions, views, and outlook of the "outside" world. They want to, literally, break you down and build you back up as a soldier. The aggression, the rules, the logical coolness of higher-ranking officials? Not only welcomed, but expected. If you cannot handle yourself under pressure, cannot brace yourself for both physical and emotional war, you will not survive training, let alone deployment. Ironic, then, isn't it, that once a soldier signs his/her contract, they are bound to their word for the next several years? What if he realizes he is too sensitive? She realizes she hasn't the strength, either emotionally and/or physically? At some point, it's just too damn bad. In this way, individuals are often forced into an extreme situation; unexpected, life-altering, and personality-changing.
After the all-immersive experience of military training, an individual has had to harden themselves even more; close off their emotions in order to endure trying physical tests and emotional assault from all angles. And if they are chosen to actually go to war? Well, I am certain that the personality shift will only be that much more ingrained. Once they return home, it's easier said than done to just smoothly transition back to who they once were, how they once responded and reacted to life. And Taylor is no exception to this.
It has been a while since I felt so moved watching a film, in both positive and negative ways. Scenes depicting the cold, ruthless killing of others, friend or foe. Empathizing with soldiers wishing to be killed or injured in order to be sent home. Taylor trying to save some young Vietnamese girls from being raped by his own men. Imagining the psychological trauma of watching people you yelled at yesterday, got high with last night, bonded with this morning, die in your arms. The palpable loneliness of these men, writing home to their loved ones, or even as they vie for the any emotionless type of physical intimacy. Watching Taylor transform from a positive, optimistic young man wanting to do the right thing for his country into an old soul, enervated and jaded, murder becoming a daily occurrence rather than the unbelievable nightmare it should always be. In the penultimate scene before he is rescued, Taylor serving personal justice in taking the life of the heartless Staff Sargent Barnes.
So, I wonder, is it any surprise that soldiers return home that much more emotionally closed off, their minds almost accustomed to the idea of everyday trauma and constant panic, with an inability to open themselves up to others or allow themselves to succumb to emotional weakness?
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