The Killing Fields (1984)
When I started watching The Killing Fields (1984) I thought it would be a fight to get the truth of the conflict in Cambodia out to the American people, which it was for about half an hour. The heart if this film is far darker than a fight for free-speech. It’s a fight for one man’s freedom. That is worth stick around for.
Starting at the end of the Vietnam war that sadly spilled over to the Cambodian border, after an unplanned mass bombing of a town, in 1973’s that sees the American troops ave no choice but to withdraw from the madness that engulfs the country. Leaving behind a handful of journalists and other foreign nationals wanting to get out to safety. Focusing on the relationship between New York Times journalist Sydney Schanberg (Sam Waterston) and his aide Dith Pran (Haing S. Ngor) who over the course of the film we see a powerful bond that becomes more like brothers who don’t want to be torn apart at tensions rise.
For me it’s about Dith Pran than the journalist waiting for answers when Pran is left behind to the disturbing regime that has taken hold of the country now torn into factions. Under what is known as “Year Zero” a new way of thinking that first enslaves people into forced labor whilst being brainwashed into believing on a new way of thinking and living. Something that comes more easily to innocent children who become as violent and dangerous as their captors. It’s the adults and intellectuals such as Pran who struggle with this propaganda, he has to leave, something that is hard to achieve.
Whilst back in the safety of New York Schanberg is living with the guilt of leaving behind his friend, not believing he has been killed, like Pran’s family belief, filled with hope and ambition to see him safely return to his new home. Pran has to live by his wits, keeping in contact with Schanberg with his own thoughts that take the form of letters that never take to paper. His experiences are horrific and courageous as he fights for his freedom, not giving up his idea to start a new Cambodia which has since been lost to the wreckage.
We see a beautiful country being destroyed by conflict, leaving in its path only the bones of those not willing to give in to the change that the factions want. It’s a hard and rewarding watch filled with hope and despair in equal measure. Focusing on the relationship between a man who is driven by his ego, whilst the other living a simpler life, who work and live together, able to bring stories to the world’s attention. We forget about the human cost in conflict when history is written, focusing more on the political damage which can be easier to listen to. The Killing Fields is a reminder that people suffered and died here, even those we don’t think about, the journalist who we think are impartial just bringing us the story. The story can sometimes be them.
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