My Favorite Scene is a long-since dormant column that I’ve been anxious to bring back for some time. The concept is simple: I discuss my favorite scene from one of my favorite films.
Often times, the scene I highlight is one that you may not initially notice. In film, I find myself attracted to emotional expression (the face, the eyes, the gesture) more so than the exaggerated monologue or inflated action sequence. My proclivity for emotional expression will be a common theme among this series. Enjoy.
Before the film’s final battle, the naïve-turned-cynical Chris (Charlie Sheen) and strong-willed leader King (Keith David) sit in the jungle and talk about people back home. King asks Chris if he has anyone; a girlfriend, parents, grandmother? “No,” Chris says, pulling a drag of marijuana, “there’s no one.” Moments later, ballbuster O’Neill (John C. McGinley) approaches King and tells him to pack his shit. His orders have come through. He gets to go home.
King gripes, assuming O’Neill is putting him on, but when he sees that O’Neill is serious, King’s behavior becomes appropriately ecstatic. He grabs his gear, puts his hand on Chris’s shoulder and wishes him goodbye. Chris says he’ll walk him out to the helicopter, and it’s what happens next that I find so significant.
King, still with his hand on Chris’s shoulder, looks up, gently glancing at the jungle. He blinks, as if to preserve the memory, as if to say, “Yeah, I see you, I’ll never forget you, and I’ll never be back.” He looks at Chris and smiles. End scene.
It’s hard to articulate the feeling of emotion that comes over me when I watch that scene. There is, however, more to this story. And this being Veteran’s Day, it feels like an appropriate time to share.
When I was young, maybe 9, I watched Platoon with a veteran that served two tours in the war. This was a big, brooding man who talked little, if ever, about his time in Vietnam.
But on this particular day, as he heard Samuel Barber’s lovely, haunting Adagio for Strings open the film, he decided to come in the living room and watch Oliver Stone’s masterpiece. Maybe he had seen it before, maybe he hadn’t. I didn’t ask.
We sat and watched the film in silence. I would peak over occasionally to gauge his demeanor, which was steadily impassive. He sat stoic during the film’s recreation of the My Lai Massacre, he looked indifferent when one Sergeant shoots another in cold blood. He sat and took it all in, without saying a word.
And then something happened.
Keith David had his hand on Charlie Sheen’s shoulder. He looked around the jungle then blinked, then smiled, then walked away. When that scene ended, my viewing partner drew in a tight, audible breath, then exhaled nervously. He shook his head a few times, got up, and left the room. I paused the movie and after a minute or two, he came in, sat down and looked up at the paused TV.
“A lot of guys deserved to have that moment,” he said.
Although we ended up finishing the rest of the film, that brief exchange was never mentioned again. There was no talk of the war or the movie that conveyed it.
That veteran has since passed, and every time I watch Platoon, I think of him. I think about his random emotional encounter. His shaky voice and his glossed-over eyes.
I think about how, sometimes, a movie is more than just a movie. It’s a reminder. A reminder that lives forever.