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Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Toxic Myth of US Innocence: From "The Deer Hunter" to Donald Trump

The Toxic Myth of US Innocence: From "The Deer Hunter" to Donald Trump

Thursday, 15 September 2016 00:00 By Mike Lofgren, Truthout | Op-Ed The death of film director Michael Cimino in July of this year stimulated a great deal of commentary on the concept of the flawed genius. His obituaries typically focused on his film Heaven's Gate, which has become a byword for bloated, self-indulgent, glacially paced, but visually arresting movies. The fact that its huge budget and negligible box office sank a major studio guaranteed Cimino an eternal place in a kind of reverse hall of fame while ensuring that his future output in Hollywood would be severely limited.
But even with that paltry body of work, Cimino remains one of the more significant directors in cinematic history. His earlier film, The Deer Hunter, won five Academy Awards and is preserved by the Library of Congress for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." I believe the film richly illustrates -- whether the director fully intended it or not -- the American delusion of lost innocence and outraged virtue, a national pathology that has steadily grown throughout the war on terror and has achieved a culmination in the campaign of Donald Trump.
After its initial release, film critics were in no doubt, usually showering it with accolades. Roger Ebert called it "a heartbreakingly effective fictional machine that evokes the agony of the Vietnam time," while giving it four stars. Leonard Maltin also awarded The Deer Hunter four stars, calling it a "sensitive, painful, evocative work." Ebert summed up the end of the film this way:
If it is not overtly "anti-war," why should it be? Hell, we're all against the war... now. What The Deer Hunter insists is that we not forget the war. It ends on a curious note: The singing of "God Bless America." I won't tell you how it arrives at that particular moment (the unfolding of the final passages should occur to you as events in life) but I do want to observe that the lyrics of "God Bless America" have never before seemed to me to contain such an infinity of possible meanings, some tragic, some unspeakably sad, some few still defiantly hopeful.

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