Friday, November 11, 2011

My Favorite Scene: Platoon

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.

Platoon is a hard film to watch for a number of reasons.  There are the obvious notions – the impassiveness of brutality, the guilt of carnage, the segregation of brothers in arms, the hidden enemy – that make it difficult to stomach, but for me, the horrors depicted in Platoon are epitomized in one very brief, but no less effective scene.

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.
The moment lasts maybe four seconds, but it is a moment of heartbreaking acknowledgment, one that manages to spring tears from my eyes every time I watch the film. 

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.
I understand full well that this story may sound exaggerated and hyperbolic.  All I can say is that life, at times, throws you random situations that are stranger than fiction.  This happened. And it is something that is forever stitched in my mind.

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. 


  1. Ahh PLATOON. What a masterpiece. Full of memorable moments (every scene pretty much) - and the beautiful and powerful moment you mention is one of many - I find some new emotion I never knew existed every time I watch it.

    I also watched it quite young, and it horrified me initially, but when I revisited it again - the same week, but separated by a couple of days, it was (and still is) the most extraordinary film experience of my life. I remember running up to my mother and saying I had found my new favourite film. This would have been 2000/01. At the time it was...and it still is.

    I have to post something on this film someday. Great read, Alex. I'm so glad we share the same love for this film.

  2. I like this feature; you should definitely keep it running on your site. I can think of a LOT of scenes I'd like to write a post about. What a great idea for a feature!

  3. Very interesting read. Not a moment I'd ever fully considered before now. Great story about watching it with the veteran too. Keith David is great in this film generally, as is pretty much the entire cast! not quite a subtle but I love when they're all getting high to 'Tracks of my Tears'.

  4. @Andy, that's a great story. I knew you liked the movie more than words based on your Top 100, but yeah, what a flawless, expertly made film

    @Tyler, glad you like the feature, I've been wanting to bring it back for a while. Some many scenes to cover...

    @Pete, hey thanks for stopping by! Did you know that all the actors were really stoned when they filmed that scene?

  5. Love this feature! Suggestions for future columns: (1.) "It comes down to one simple choice. You gotta get busy living or get busy dying." OR (2.) "Take that under advisement, jerkweed." I think that you know these.

  6. Thanks for sharing that story.... Platoon is an awesome movie. Oliver Stone may have gone off the rails a bit lately but he did helm some awesome films

  7. haha i didn't know that but i'm glad to hear it (all in the name of authenticity of course!)

  8. @Susan, haha yes of course, you're very fast, Argyle.

    @Pete, oh no doubt. besides, it was the '80s. no harm no foul. well, unless you call Sheen's life a success right now...

  9. @threeguys, hey thanks for reading! Yeah Stone is a bit of a nut, but I love his work, through thick and thin

  10. Great post! Looking forward to more of these.

  11. Y'know, I don't think I've seen Platoon since it came out. Added to list.