Filmsite Movie Review
Platoon (1986)
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Plot Synopsis (continued)

Another Deadly NVA Attack on Platoon Patrol: 1968

The sequence shifted to Taylor's narration of another letter, to identify the time a few months later, while walking with his platoon on another patrol mission through a recently-napalmed jungle. His helmet was scrawled with the message: "If I die bury me upside down so the world can kiss my ass":

(voice-over) New Year's Day, 1968. Just another day. Stayin' alive. There's been a lot of movement near the Cambodian border. Regiments of NVA movin' across. A lot of little firefights, ambushes. We drop a lot bombs, then we walk through the jungle like ghosts in a landscape.

Behind him, Sgt. Barnes signaled the presence of a camouflaged bunker covered with foliage about 20 feet up ahead of Taylor. Barnes cautiously approached and discovered the bunker was empty. They uncovered an entire city or complex of NVA bunkers attached by tunnels, with freshly-washed laundry strung out on clothes-lines. Nearby was a smoking fire-pit (with a teapot still boiling) with packs and helmets laid out on the ground, thatched huts and a treehouse - clear evidence that the NVA were living there but had recently evacuated. Sgt. Elias descended into one of the dangerous-looking tunnels. A defensive perimeter was set up at various flanks around the "spooky" ghost-town encampment by Chris on one side and Manny (Corkey Ford) on the other. Inside the tunnel, Sgt. Elias came upon an illuminated, well-equipped NVA hospital, with a bloodied dead VietCong man lying in a hammock. As Chris stood on the flank, he froze in dread as a poisonous snake slithered around his legs.

Inside a metal ammo box, Sanderson and Sal (Richard Edson) found an official looking map - called "gook stuff." As Sal picked up the box to leave, the case exploded, part of an elaborate booby trap, and the two were almost instantly killed. Hearing the deadly explosion, Elias emerged from the tunnel. Shaken by the two deaths, Lt. Wolfe called in an urgent request for help, as Elias urged him to secure engineers: "Tell Six we need engineers. This pos is crawlin' with traps." The platoon had been notified that the NVA had been "spotted in the village half a klik down the river" - their next reconnaissance target to be searched. Sgt. Elias was ordered to remain with four men at the bunker with a medic, while the rest of the platoon ventured to the village. Sitting inside the destroyed bunker while smoking a cigarette, Sgt. Barnes appeared to have taken the two deaths very seriously. The men searched for Manny, who had been stationed on one of the flanks - and had disappeared with no sign.

Taylor narrated their progress for his letter as the platoon moved toward the Vietnamese village - they found Manny trussed with rope against a tree, arms behind his back, throat cut with his mouth wide open:

(voice-over) We had to get to the village before dark, so we left Elias with some men to keep looking and to wait for the engineers. But it was King who found him, about a thousand yards downriver, not far from the village. It was the end of the mystery.

Sgt. Barnes voiced everyone's vengeful hatred and reaction: "The motherf--kers!"

(voice-over) The village which had stood for maybe 1,000 years, didn't know we were coming that day. If they had, they would've run. Barnes was at the eye of our rage and, through him, our Captain Ahab, we would set things right again. That day we loved him.

The Incident in a Vietnamese Village

Near the river, they were just about to enter the tiny village of primitive, thatched huts when Sgt. Barnes turned to shoot at one of the villagers who was fleeing up a slope off in the distance. The local villagers and farmers, because the GIs suspected them of hiding Viet Cong and aiding the enemy, were terrorized. In one of the film's most controversial and traumatic sequences, American brutality was horribly displayed and showcased. Unnecessarily, Bunny blasted and point-blank killed one of the wandering pigs with his rifle. The residents of the village were hustled out of their huts and herded together. Sgt. Barnes shouted orders at a group of cowering female villagers found hiding in a spider hole: "Get outta there, you f--kheads! Move! Put 'em in the pigpen." He then yelled out: "FIRE IN THE HOLE!", threw a grenade inside, and watched calmly as three others, who refused to get out, were blown up.

Inside one of the huts, Chris pried open floorboards and found more villagers cowering underneath. He raged and lost his cool as Francis tried to calm him down:

Chris: Get the f--k outta there! Let's go! Come on, motherf--ker!
Francis: Be cool. Be cool. They're scared, man. They're scared.
Chris: Oh, they're scared, huh? What about me, man? What about me? I'm sick of this f--kin' s--t! Come on, motherf--ker! Move!

Once a young Vietnamese villager was pulled out, Chris chastised the frightened one-legged man (Romy Sevilla) (with his hysterical elderly mother (Clarisa Ortacio)): "What the f--k's the matter with you? I wasn't gonna hurt ya. Look like I was gonna f--kin' hurt ya? Why didn't you listen to me, huh? Why? Why didn't you f--kin' listen to me? F--kin' stupid? You stupid asshole!" Exasperated, Chris fired at the man's one-leg with his M-16, causing him to dance as he became angrier, and other grunts smiled: "Dance, one-legger! Dance! Dance!...One-legged motherf--ker!" Although amused, Bunny wasn't satisfied with Chris' humiliation of the disabled man, and decided to go further: "F--kin' pussy, man! He's laughin' at you! That's the way the gook laughs." When the 'gook' stared at Bunny with a shocked, impassive look, the war-mad Bunny took out his revenge on him ("You're real sorry, ain't ya? You're just cryin' your little hearts out about Sandy and Sal, and Manny!"), and repeatedly pummeled him in the face with the butt of his gun. With blood specks on his face, he was even amazed by his own destructive, blood-lusting power. And then he went further by urging the rape of the man's mother - and of everyone else in the village, because he thought no one (not even women or children) could be trusted:

Bunny: Did you see that f--kin' head come apart, man? I never seen brains like that before, man! I bet you the old bitch runs the whole f--kin' show, man! She probably cut Manny's throat. She'd probably cut my balls off if she had the chance.
O'Neill: Bunny, we leave now, and nobody saw a f--kin' thing! You understand me, Taylor? Not a f--kin' thing!
Bunny: Come on, man, let's f--kin' do her, man! Let's do this whole f--kin' village!

In another part of the village, a tremendous cache of weapons wrapped in white plastic sheeting was cleverly hidden but uncovered, near large quantities of stored rice in an underground silo: "We got one, two, three, four mag .58 Czechoslovakian machine guns. Barnes, they got enough rice here to feed a whole f--kin' regiment." Barnes ordered everything to be burned.

The village chief (Bernardo Manalili), the "gook honcho," was apprehended and brought before Sgt. Barnes by Tubbs (Andrew B. Clark) in the central area of the village. The chief presented his ID papers, and claimed the scars on his back were from a recent bombing raid. Lerner (Johnny Depp), who knew pidgen Vietnamese, served as an interpreter for Barnes. The villager's excuse for having weapons and so much rice was revealed, while other grunts mumbled that they suspected he was lying, and was regularly supplying the NVA with food and guns:

He says they had no choice. The NVA killed the old honcho when he said no. He says the rice is theirs...He says that the NVA ain't been around in a couple of months....He swears he doesn't know anything. He hates the NVA, but they come when they want and take the place over.

The village chief's middle-aged wife (Than Rogers) indignantly yelled (in Vietnamese) at Lerner and Barnes for questioning her husband. Overwhelmed by the many voices, Lerner attempted to translate: "I don't know. She's goin' on about why we killed the pigs. They're farmers. They gotta make a livin', and all that kinda s--t." The malevolent, callous and murderous Sgt. Barnes was at his breaking point in the hot sun. To silence her hysteria, he cold-bloodedly and mercilessly murdered the woman with a single bullet to her forehead. The village chief's young daughter (Li Thi Van) began to wail, and the husband knelt and cried by his wife's corpse. Barnes urged Lerner to threaten the rest of the villagers who would also face murder unless they started talking. Tony became exasperated by the chaos and recommended a massacre: "Let's go for it! Let's do the whole f--kin' village! Come on, Sarge! What the f--k are we waitin' for? Let's do 'em!"

Sgt. Barnes grabbed the young girl and with his .45 gun pointed at her head, he threatened her if the village chief didn't confess that he was VC. The rear party led by Sgt. Elias suddenly arrived and advanced forward to intervene. Elias prevented Barnes from committing a major atrocity ("What the f--k do you think you're doin'?...You ain't a firing squad, you piece of s--t!"), by punching him in the face with the stock of his rifle. The two wrestled in the dust as the men shouted and chose sides, urging the two figures to punch, pound, kick, and claw at each other. Finally, Lt. Wolfe took charge and broke up the vicious altercation - he ordered the men to depart with some final commands to destroy the supplies and raze the village:

Captain says to torch this place! Do ya hear that? Torch this place! Blow the weapons in place! Round up all suspected VC and shake it up! We ain't got much light left!

Elias interrupted and asked why Lt. Wolfe hadn't acted sooner to stop the killing ("Why the f--k didn't ya do somethin'?"), but the shamed, in-denial Lt. Wolfe refused to directly answer: ("I don't know what the f--k you're talkin' about, Elias!"). The platoon proceeded to set the village ablaze, destroy rice stores and supplies, blow up the weapons cache, and explode grenades as they moved out. Some villagers were rounded up for questioning. Wandering away dazed, Chris was astounded when he saw Morehouse (Kevin Eshelman), Tony and Bunny at the edge of the jungle gang-raping one of the young village girls (Li Mai Thao), and preparing to rape a second female. He made a conscious effort to stop the depersonalized attack, but was criticized and name-called:

Bunny: You a homosexual, Taylor?
Morehouse: What the f--k is your problem, Taylor? She's a f--kin' dink!
Chris: She's a f--kin' human being, man! F--k you!...F--kin' animals! All of you, you're f--kin' animals!
Tony: F--kin' lame f--k! You don't belong in the 'Nam, man! This ain't your place at all!
Chris: You don't f--kin' get it, do ya, man?...You just don't f--kin' get it.

Sgt. Elias signaled everyone to move out, and as the soldiers (some carrying village children) streamed away, fires consumed huts in the background. One hut was set on fire by Bunny's cigarette lighter, after which he callously lit his cigarette. A set of large explosions signaled the detonation of the weapons cache. The screen faded to black.

At the Company Command Post

Some time later at the company command post, veteran commander Captain Harris conferred with Barnes, Elias, and Lt. Wolfe about the killing of the village chief's wife during the incident. Lt. Wolfe tried to explain away his responsibility in two ways: (1) he didn't witness the murder: "I didn't see anything, sir" (although Elias claimed he was a witness: "I did"), and (2) he placed the blame on Barnes for targeting the victim: "That dink was reported to me as NVA by Sergeant Barnes, sir." Harris declared that the case would be settled at the base camp in a court-martial trial, and in the meantime, he insisted on peace between Barnes and Elias:

And I can promise you something. If I find out there was an illegal killing, there will be a court martial. Right now, I need every man in the field. And you two will cease fire. Staff Sergeant Barnes, Sergeant Elias. You hear me?

The two sides or lines in the schizophrenic battle had now been established - Barnes felt threatened that Elias would testify against him in a court-martial investigation. Close by, some of the 'blood-brother' recruits (including Big Harold, Francis, King and Rhah) were in a heated debate, and Rhah tried to speak realistically in support of Barnes: "You bloods are gettin' too hung up on all this s--t. These gooks are a lot smarter than you think. You know, Barnes knows his s--t, man. They was NVA, every last one of 'em. Now, he's taken us this far, right? He'll take us the rest of the way." Big Harold was concerned: "I don't know, brothers, but I'm hurting real bad inside."

Nearby, Lt. Wolfe assured Sgt. Barnes that Elias wouldn't be able to prove his allegations:

Wolfe: Don't worry about it, Sergeant. Elias won't be able to prove a thing. I mean, he's a troublemaker.
Barnes: Elias is a water-walker. Like them politicians in Washington tryin' to fight this war with one hand tied around their balls. Ain't no need or time for a courtroom out here.

The psychotic Bunny also called Elias "a f--kin' rat" - and predicted a future 'fragging' was needed: "He's gonna get everybody in this platoon in deep s--t. Somebody oughta frag his ass." When Sgt. O'Neill asked Barnes: "Gonna be an investigation or what? Bob?", there was no answer from Barnes, but Bunny calmed everyone: "O'Neill, man, you worry too much. Sarge will take care of it."

That night in a foxhole, Chris and Sgt. Elias shared a meditative view of the stars. Elias stated his 'critique' of the unwinnable war and the US' dire prospects:

Elias: The stars. There's no right or wrong in 'em. They're just there.
Chris: That's a nice way of puttin' it. Barnes has got it in for you, doesn't he?
Elias: (philosophically) Barnes believes in what he's doing.
Chris: And you? Do you believe?
Elias: In '65, yeah. Now, no. What happened today is just the beginning. We're gonna lose this war.
Chris: (surprised) Come on. You really think so? Us?
Elias: We've been kickin' other people's asses for so long, I figure it's time we got ours kicked.

On Another Deadly Platoon Patrol

During the next day's platoon patrol-march along a jungle stream, Chris concisely stated in his letter the film's major conflict - the struggle for the "possession" of his soul during a 'civil war' between Elias and Barnes:

(voice-over) Day by day, I struggle to maintain not only my strength, but my sanity. It's all a blur. I have no energy to write. I don't know what's right and what's wrong any more. The morale of the men is low. There's civil war in the platoon. Half the men with Elias, half with Barnes. There's a lot of suspicion and hate. I can't believe we're fightin' each other when we should be fighting them. Counting days, and the six inches in front of my face. Not much else. Hope things are well, Grandma. Tell Mom and Dad I... Well... just tell them. Chris.

Sgt. Elias checked out abandoned spider holes. Standing in waist-deep water in the rain, King ribbed Big Harold about his desire to get easy work details or to get back to the real world - Harold joked back: "I got my request in for a circumcision! I'm gonna get my big ass outta this place!" Chris pulled a blood-sucking leech off his right cheek. Lt. Wolfe ordered: "Move it out." Fu Sheng cautioned Junior about drinking from the stream: "Don't drink that, asshole. You're gonna get malaria" (although malaria was caused by a mosquito bite). Junior replied: "Yeah, I hope so."

The platoon approached quietly through a shaded forest of trees when machine gunfire erupted and a few recruits went down in a punishing ambush. During the intense firefight, shouts called for help for two men who had been hit on point: "Doc! Get up here! Lerner's hit! Sergeant Warren's hit!" Chris was told by a scared and frantic Sgt. O'Neill: "They got RPGs [Rocket-Propelled Grenades], man! It's an ambush! They were just f--kin' waitin' for us here!" Chris suddenly rushed forward to provide cover for Doc, who was attending to a wounded Tubbs, and to reach Lerner and Warren. Sgt. Barnes cried out orders for support: "Goddamn it, you assholes! Get some firepower up there!" Chris reached Francis, who told him about Lerner's and Warren's positions further ahead - Chris' ultimate destination. Coordinates were radioed to air support, but now misdirected incoming rockets threatened to strike the recruits.

Sgt. Elias rushed over to Lieutenant Wolfe, knowing that the enemy VC anticipated the artillery about to be unleashed and would "get in tight." [Note: This was one VC war strategy - to stay so close to US infantry troops that it would be impossible for them to use fire support and airpower.] He suggested a way to outflank the enemy without getting caught in a cross-fire: "I spotted a cut over there. Let me get some men and roll up that flank. I can work right up on them." The Lieutenant was confused, unsure and disoriented and couldn't make a rational decision about splitting off some of the forces. Barnes yelled at Elias for retreating backwards to the command group, when four men were already down. Having experienced a cross-fire ambush tactic before in 1966 and knowing how to counter-act it, Sgt. Elias drew a strategic map of positions in the dirt for Lieutenant Wolfe and Barnes to explain his daring plan - and he was reluctantly allowed to take "three men":

Elias: There's holes back here. Third Platoon's comin' up here. We're here. Dinks get men in these holes, they got us caught in the crossfire. We'll shoot each other to s--t...I've seen it happen - Nha Trang in '66. They cut us to f--kin' pieces! I need three men!...You keep pourin' off that cover fire. I don't want to be stuck out there with my ass hangin' in the breeze!
Barnes: You don't tell me how to run my war, Elias! Now you go cryin' and rat-f--kin' the brigade on your own time! But out here, you belong to me! Now, move!
Elias: You're an asshole, Barnes!

Meanwhile, Chris had reached the downed Lerner, and spotted where the VC sniper was spraying AK fire about 10 yards away. He lobbed a grenade at the enemy. However, artillery shells were whistling down upon the platoon from their own forces ('friendly fire') - inaccurately directed and called "short rounds." As Barnes retreated, his radio operator was hit by a chunk of hot shrapnel on his back. He frantically struggled to remove his backpack, as Barnes applied his bayonet to the wound and pried out the burning metal. In his blinded flight, Big Harold realized he had stumbled across a trip-wire, as Bunny yelled out: "Satchel charge." Big Harold screamed when it exploded, and presumably lost a leg. Chris carried the rescued, seriously-wounded Lerner to Doc for treatment. Chris tried to reassure the dying man: "Hey, Gator... you'll be OK, man." As Lieutenant Wolfe was heard radioing in new adjusted coordinates, Barnes ripped off his headset and criticized him for inaccurately targeting their own platoon:

What the f--k coordinates are you giving? You wasted a lot of people up there with your f--ked-up fire mission! You know that?

Barnes grabbed the radio and shouted into it: "Check your fire!"

After being allowed to pursue his counter-attack plan, Sgt. Elias took Chris and two other men (Rhah and blonde beach surfer Crawford) to intercept flanking enemy troops: "Stagger yourself across this line. Shoot anything that moves. They'll be comin' from over there...Any one of 'em gets through, we're truly f--ked." Sgt. Elias explained where he would alone take a different position: "Down by the river, about 100 metres, in case they try to flank us. Third Platoon's coming up to our rear, so watch for 'em....I move faster alone." Without a pack, Elias swiftly vanished into the jungle.

Shortly later, Barnes also instructed Wolfe about where to position their Second Platoon, now that the artillery was redirected and the Third Platoon was arriving with support: "Let's let arty do a little bit of the work here. You tell everybody to pull back to the church. We link up with Third Platoon. You got that?" Barnes was not concerned when he mentioned that Elias and his men would be cut off after they pulled back. He promised that he would personally take care of notifying Elias and his group, with an ominous response: "I'll get him."

In their jungle position, Chris and two others watched from cover in the misty forest, as members of the VC army slowly moved towards them. They opened fire and killed three of the enemy, before they retreated from view. Chris was elated and yelled out: "Ho Chi Minh sucks dead dicks!" But then Chris realized that Crawford had been hit in the lung. When Sgt. Barnes ran up to them, Rhah reported: "A bunch of gooks came through there. We got three of the f--kers!" The three were ordered to retreat to the church due to the "arty shift" and await an airlift evacuation for the dead and wounded. Barnes overruled Chris' offer to notify Elias.

Then, the sociopathic Barnes stalked after Sgt. Elias, who had separated from the platoon in the deep jungle. Elias came upon retreating NVA soldiers with an RPG launcher, and killed a number of them. From a short distance away, Sgt. Barnes was attuned to the gunfire and refocused his direction toward Elias. After depositing Crawford at the fall-back position to be treated, Chris took off into the jungle to warn Elias. Barnes held his rifle at a figure in front of him - and saw Sgt. Elias emerging from the jungle and smiling at him. There were two close-ups of their staring eyes. Barnes never lowered his rifle, but calmly shot his long-time opponent three times in the chest, to mortally wound him and leave him for dead in the Vietnamese jungle. Chris heard the gunfire and came upon the malevolent Barnes, who harshly lied when answering Chris' skeptical questions:

Elias is dead. Fall back with the platoon. Get goin'. ..Yeah. Yeah, he's back there about a 100 meters...He's DEAD! There's 'gooks' all over the goddamn place. Get movin'.

At the helicopter pickup area near the church, gurneys were quickly loaded with the wounded and dying, while some were left for the next round of pick-ups (wind from the chopper's blades uncovered the black sheets over the corpses):

  • The Wounded: Lerner (horribly bloodied and wounded on a makeshift stretcher), Ace, Sgt. Warren, Big Harold (with his leg blown off), and Crawford (hit in the lung)
  • The Dead: Flash, Tubbs, Morehouse, and Fu Sheng

But as they swiftly pulled away, Chris noticed a seriously-wounded soldier ("They've got Elias") being pursued, retreating, and running (in slow-motion) from a group of NVA soldiers firing at him. The radio operator reported: "There's still one on the deck down there. Bring in the gunships!"

In a startling scene, an overpowered Sgt. Elias emerged and staggered into view out of the jungle, falling and crawling along when hit by more gunfire, as the helicopters provided some door-gunner firepower to assist. There was an attempt to swing back and rescue Elias, who crumbled to the ground on his knees. He adopted an iconic, sacrificial, slow-motion, Christ-like crucifixion martyr pose (with his arms outstretched upwards) when he was repeatedly struck by VC enemy fire - viewed from a chopper overhead. He was fatally hit and died in grandiose fashion before he could be taken aboard (while Samuel Barber's Adagio For Strings played, performed by the New Zealand Symphony). [Note: Earlier - and then after his death, Barnes had referred to Sgt. Elias with religious terms - as a miraculous "water-walker" and as a "crusader" - the same term used to describe Chris.]

Chris directed a knowing, revolted stare at Sgt. Barnes next to him in the chopper, realizing that Barnes had played a key role in Elias's death and had left him behind.

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