Elements in The Deer Hunter
“I fear, too early: for my mind
Some consequence yet hanging in the
Shall bitterly begin his fearful date
With this night's revels and expire
Of a despised life closed in my breast
By some vile forfeit of untimely
But He, that hath the steerage of my
Direct my sail! On, lusty
Romeo, Act I Scene IV, Romeo and
gentlemen,” could very well be the mantra of The Deer Hunter,
story of camaraderie and conflict among six male friends in Clairton, Pennsylvania.
They hunt, they drink, they punch each other, they race cars, they
they sing. They enjoy what’s left of their bachelorhood.
Speaking strictly in the
company of men, Romeo fears “some
consequence yet hanging in the stars / Shall bitterly begin his fearful
With this night’s revels.” Likewise, the opening male
merriments of The Deer Hunter are seasoned with
Mike Vronsky (Robert De Niro) points to sun dogs in the sky.
a blessing on the hunter sent by the great wolf to his children,”
“What the fuck are
you talking about,” replies Stanley Stosh
(John Cazale) with a grin.
an old Indian thing.
serious): You’re full of shit.
Vronsky: Stanley, would I
about something like that?
Stosh: You know,
Mike, there’s times when nobody but a doctor can understand you.
Vronsky (speaking to
the group, rather than directly to Stosh): That’s an omen,
you know that?
You know that we could have one great fucking hunting trip tonight?
Later scenes elucidate the
Stosh-Vronsky tension. Toward the
end of the first act, they nearly shoot each other when Vronsky refuses
Stosh his boots. In the scene, Vronsky condescends to Stosh, glibly
“No means no.” In turn, Stosh calls Vronsky a fag. Only the
social suavity of Nick
Chevotarevich (Christopher Walken) keeps the peace. In the third act
Chevotarevich stuck in Vietnam
and unable to intercede – Vronsky fires a partially loaded pistol
sublimity stems from its portrayals of how the best of pals can get
worst of fights. The Stosh-Vronsky conflict and the
Chevotarevich-Vronsky duel it
foreshadows have teeth precisely because the film is faithful to their
We get our first glimpse of
the Stosh-Vronsky friendship at
the wedding. In a rare display of bashfulness, Vronsky is initially a
wallflower at the party. He gets drunk and sneaks smiles at
Linda (Meryl Streep). When the band leader introduces Vronsky to loud
Vronsky is reluctant to leave the bar.
It is Stosh who bear-hugs
Vronsky from behind and lugs him
to the dance floor. Next, Stosh falls down and Vronsky lands on top of
the two men are laughing and dancing with each other. They embrace and
for nearly half a minute. At one point, Stosh wants to let go but
to keep dancing. As a viewer you forget this moment – until Stosh
reminds you of
it later by calling Vronsky a fag.
The strength of male bonds is just as important to the plot
of Romeo and Juliet. The
Romeo-Mercutio relationship gives Romeo a motive for dueling with
Tybalt slays Mercutio. Some critics, including Harold Bloom,
Shakespeare went slightly awry by making Mercutio more interesting than
Mercutio dies, Romeo gets a motive, but the play also loses its most
captivating stage presence – with two acts remaining. To quote Holden Caulfield
the subject: “I felt much sorrier when old Mercutio got killed
than when Romeo
and Juliet did” (111).
The Deer Hunter is
far from flawless, but it exceeds Romeo
and Juliet in tragic power for one simple reason: Not until the
very end of
the story does the most sympathetic character die. That character is
eminently likable Chevotarevich, the peacekeeper and merrymaker of the
asked by Vronsky what he enjoys about hunting, Chevotarevich simply
like the trees...you know...the way the trees are.” The way he
says it, he is
speaking from his heart.
He is hardly the type of character you
would expect to fire a gun into his own forehead. That he ends up doing
so is a testament to how events in The
Deer Hunter both transform his personality and obliterate his
formerly irrepressible will to live.
Ilan Mochari's fiction has been published in Keyhole and honored by Glimmer Train.
In 2009, he received a Literature Artist Fellowship grant from the
Somerville Arts Council, a local agency supported by the Massachusetts
Cultural Council. He is a former staff writer for Inc, and he has also
written for Fortune Small Business and CFO. He has a B.A. in English from Yale University.