Published on March 23rd, 2009 | by Chris0
Heaven & Earth (1993)
Heaven & Earth is Oliver Stone's final entry in his Vietnam Trilogy (with Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July), and likely the most controversial of the three. Following the trials of a Vietnamese girl, Le Ly (Bussaro Sanruck) from a young girl at the outset of the war, all the way through to far after.
Le grows up in a small village in rural Vietnam, far from the politics the rest of the world. Honestly, I'm sitting here trying to think about how to summarize the first part of this film in a nice neat package, and there just isn't a good way. It's just that complex, taking Le from the village, to fighting for the VC, to being the VC's enemy, to having a her rich boss' baby... And much more inbetween. This is the best part of the film, showing how she copes with life during the war, trying to make the best of a bad situation. The relationships with all of her family members, including her mother (Joan Chen) and father (Haing Ngor) are complex, sad, and wonderful.
And then she meets Marine Steve Butler, an American looking for some company. She winds up falling for him, and manages to escape the fall of Saigon with him back to America. And then film takes a turn.
We go from her life in Vietnam, to being some sort of statement about fat, lazy, stupid Americans living life to excess with problems that she doesn't understand. Butler is in dire straits, and has some psychological problems of his own it seems. Things go from bad to worse, as the abuse starts, they split up, she tries to save him, but its just too late. Throughout she remains a strong and excellent character, dealing with ignorance and prejudice, but the contrast is just too over the top.
Life after Steve returns her to Vietnam, where she's reunited with her family along with her now grown children. Here the film regains its sanity as they discuss the problems they faced after she left.
If it wasn't for the "trip to Oz" that she goes through, I think this would be an absolutely stellar look at an alternate viewpoint of the war. As it is, it just goes from dead serious and thoughtful, to a sad comic episode that doesn't belong.
Heaven & Earth could be a top notch movie, in fact it might make you rethink your attitudes towards the war, and think about what things were like for the people on the other side. But you'll have to endure things like the wide-eyed trip to the supermarket, and the unreal Thanksgiving dinner episode to get there.
Summary: Heaven & Earth could be a top notch movie, in fact it might make you rethink your attitudes towards the war, and think about what things were like for the people on the other side. But you'll have to endure things like the wide-eyed trip to the supermarket, and the unreal Thanksgiving dinner episode to get there.