Hearts and Minds
Director: Peter Davis
Year of release: 1974
Running time: 1 hour 52 minutes
Welcome to THE CRITERION CORNER, a recurring segment in which a film in The Criterion Collection, known for standardizing the letterbox format for widescreen movies and extra bonus features, is highlighted. The picture up for discussion this time is the definitive take on the Vietnam War, Peter Davis's 1974 documentary Hearts and Minds.
Angry, impassioned, and emotionally devastating, Peter Davis's monumental snapshot of the Vietnam War; as it was unfolding and it's immediate aftermath, is one of the most pertinent reminders of the cyclical nature of violence, ignorance, and the ways in which the military industrial complex brainwashes young men into becoming killing machines. Hearts and Minds casts a broad net; including interviews with both pro and anti-war subjects, prominent government officials, and soldiers who made it out alive to tell their shocking stories. Much of the archival footage here has been repeated ad nauseum--images of children ravaged by napalm blasts, the famous Saigon execution where a man is shot at point blank range in the head--but it's the smaller moments that linger most; such as a father weeping as he slams Nixon for allowing the US to bomb his village, killing his young daughter. It's these moments which seer inside your brain. It's these moments which make Hearts and Minds one of the most powerful and infuriating films ever made.
The United State's involvement in Vietnam was atrocious and ill-advised beyond belief, but what's most striking about Davis's picture is that he captures the national tone of the times simply because he was present, camera in hand, to bottle the zeitgeist. This is a film which provoked outrage for it's clear-minded attempt at demythologizing the war, but it also transcends beyond mere political outrage and enters into the realm of deconstructing human nature. In a way, it's more hopeful about the human spirit than one would think at first glance, because it aims to understand how and why racism and hatred for the "other" exists and how such things are nurtured under the guise of "patriotism". Above all else, Hearts and Minds will leave you drained and aghast. It's truly essential viewing, no matter how tough the subject matter, and another indispensable addition to The Criterion Collection.