Terrifying & Shocking: The End of Summer, Hurricane Harvey & “The Deer Hunter” — Best Picture #51 (1978)

The end of summer can seem terrifying for those returning to school from the protections of the long safe time away. Yet the new school year with its new faces and places can be an exciting and inviting time — when it can. . . .

Hurricane Harvey threw a wrench in the plans of many on the Gulf Coasts of Texas and Louisiana. The schools in Houston have yet to open. For some, the recovery will be long and difficult. My old house is under water and may be for months. Relatives and friends have been rescued by boat and truck. Many have lost much of what they owned.

When I talked to Houston earlier today, I was told 90% of the town and the people are back in business — if not yet in school, but 100% of the community is in shock. The 90% must carry on and help the 10% who cannot. The town will carry on. The city will recover. Still a sense of worrisome guilt, quiet foreboding and deep grief accompanies those externally unscathed survivors as they commute to work, read the morning papers, do their jobs and then go to the shelters after work to help their friends.

It seems an odd time for us to carry on with the Best Pictures. Over 250 miles away, we saw only little rain and no flooding. Perhaps it is a tribute to the “family” in EthnoFamilyMovieOgraphy (EFMO) that the group met together to review the next film in the list of award-winning pictures. You may recall that the EFMO group started with the 1928 Best Picture and is now at the 1978 film, the 51st movie to receive the Oscar for Best Picture.

“The Deer Hunter” is an American tragedy. The story starts in a small town in Pennsylvania where young friends celebrate the wedding of two of their number, after which the boys in the crowd escape in the cool morning for a final deer hunt together in the mountains. Three of the young men then jump to the conflict in Vietnam where they are imprisoned, tortured, escape and are separated. In the final act of the film, two of the three companions return home. One does not. The two survivor and their friends are diminished, damaged and undone by what has happened. In shock, they sit and sing a final song as the movie leaves them and the audience each to recover in their own ways. A terrifying and shocking film, it is a film of everyday life, because everyday life can be terrifying and shocking.

One of the questions on the post-show survey asks each viewer to circle the primary color they associate with the film: RED  YELLOW  BLUE? For The Deer Hunter, most circled RED. The next question asks the watcher to circle the work relationship they associate with the movie: BOSS  PEER  SUBORDINATE? Most circled PEER. This is a show of close friends, PEERs, who are fiercely loyal to each other and willing to show their love for one another in the face of great suffering, personal sacrifice and common tribulation. The circumstances are bleak and for some RED was sadly the color encountered.

At the end of this show, there was a deep silence in the room. No one spoke as the survey sheets were handed out. No one spoke as they wrote their answers. In the kitchen after, friends helped each other as friends do; and friends helped each other to their cars and off into the dark night, because that is the way of friends.

On the bottom of the EFMO survey sheet, the final question asks the person to identify something they LIKE and something they DISLIKE about the film. I am the only one who sees all the sheets, and it is my job to take the LIKEs and DISLIKEs and to the best I can to summarize those entries into a single sentence. Here is that sentence for “The Deer Hunter.”

“The music, acting and actors were the big ‘likes’ — Robert De Niro was singled out among the group of friends followed from home, to Vietnam and back home again; and even though the story was variously viewed as sad, depressing, disturbing, disjointed and convoluted, and the ending far fetched, some thought the film in its ways true to life and an accurate if not beautiful rendition of the times and the difficulties of the Vietnam conflict; this is a story of the tragedies of war and the physical, mental, emotional and psychological carnage left behind that ordinary people must face into the rest of their lives; and, as such, this is a film not so much to be enjoyed as to to be endured in shocked silence.”

In the face of terrifying circumstances, sometimes we are asked to endure in shocked silence and carry on as best we can by helping one another, because this is the way of friends.

You are and have friends,

Grandpa Jim