Last night, after watching Good Morning, Vietnam for the very first time, I took to Facebook and wrote this post:
Just finished watching Good Morning Vietnam!
What a great movie. A classic movie. And, the very first time I’ve ever watched it. Yes, I know. I’m slow. (Unpopular opinion?) Not the best movie I’ve ever watched, not even the best Robin Williams movie (Dead Poets Society still holds that award for me), but a fantastic movie nonetheless. Moving, and definitely classic Robin Williams. And anything Robin Williams is gold.
I now want to expand on that post with several thoughts. I must stress, though, that this isn’t a movie review, as such. Just my thoughts on a movie that I enjoyed, seen through the lens of my thoughts and fuelled by discussion with my husband after watching.
If you haven’t watched this movie (who hasn’t though?) please be warned there may be spoilers from here on out.
The movie is about Robin Williams’ DJ Adrian Cronauer who heads to Vietnam in 1965 on assignment to do a radio show which is overseen by the U.S. Army. The main reason is to inject some humour into the lives of the soldiers; however, some of his superiors don’t take kindly to his brand of humour – real, relevant and pointed.
Whilst in Vietnam Robin Williams befriends the locals and this helps inform and enrich his experience. It also causes strife later on down the line when he finds out that one of the locals isn’t what he thought he was at first.
A thinking person’s movie
There is much to find funny in this film, including Robin’s genius. His humour, his voices, his authenticity and how that affects the other characters around him. However, GMV is not your typical comedy. There is so much depth to the tale; though you would be forgiven if you thought otherwise as you first start to watch.
We are introduced to Cronauer in scenes that lead us into thinking that all the plot is, is a simple tale of a funny man coming to give the soldiers a gee-up, an injection of positivity in the face of war. However, we come away from the movie with a sense that a lot more took place beneath the surface.
Good Morning, Vietnam is a thinking person’s film.
To unpack that thought a little I need to explain what I loved about the story.
Adrian Cronauer was a very real character (not some larger than life hero) and Robin played him so well. He felt compassion for the locals, along with being a typical male of his era (seeing the local women and falling in love with one of them and trying to get her by taking over her English class, and initially befriending her brother so he could get an inroads with her). I loved though, that the story-line was more realistic than many blockbusters today: He didn’t get the girl in the end and there wasn’t really a happy ending. He didn’t get into the good graces of his superiors, or pull off a miraculous comeback to the radio show. He was dishonorably discharged, but even so…he still managed to do it with his dignity intact and having the final word. Still with his trademark humour.
As we are aware, he enters into Vietnam in a time of U.S. occupation but one thing that was obvious to both my husband and I was that sides were not taken. No one was painted as the good guys, or the bad guys. This was clearly evidenced in some of the final scenes when Adrian finds out that his new friend is actually one of the Viet Cong leaders. He confronts him and the young Vietnamese man asks the question, “what is enemy?” Then goes on to justify why he is VC, because his mother, his neighbour, were killed by Americans. So, he feels that he was doing the right thing.
I wish more movies were more like this, not delineating good and evil in such clear cut ways. Yes, there is pure evil in the world. But, I want more authentic portrayals of good and evil. I want stories that give meaning and motivation for why characters are “bad”. Yes, I do enjoy stories of good vs. evil…but GMV was a refreshing change from that particular formula.
Another thought I wanted to highlight was the use of humour in the movie and the underlying commentary on what it actually is. Adrian was brought in by the General because he listened to his show from Crete and thought he was funny. And he is. The humour is relevant and real and is what appeals to the soldiers out in the field. Often dry and sometimes dark, the humour that Adrian conveys is funny because of its authenticity.
On the other hand, his superior officers don’t find him funny at all. The Lieutenant even fancies himself as one who truly has a sense of humour (Sir, in my heart, I know I’m funny.). Except that his humour isn’t relevant. It’s ‘Readers Digest’ material. (Lieutenant Steven Hauk: I understand you’re pretty funny as a dee-jay and, well, comedy is kind of a hobby of mine. Well, actually, it’s a little more than just a hobby, Reader’s Digest is considering publishing two of my jokes.)
It’s not that the Lieutenant’s type of humour isn’t funny. It’s just not authentic, or what the soldiers want to hear. It’s not what gives them a light moment amidst the horrors of war. They want Adrian’s brand of humour. They don’t want safe, bland jokes that could come out of a stock standard joke book.
Humour is a social thing, it’s how information can be digested, especially hard to digest information. Humour can be used to great effect; it can diffuse a situation; it can entertain. It can also inflame a situation and draw out the true colour of a person, and I think that’s important.
If I was to speak of an overarching theme for this movie, it would be that in the face of adversity, it’s important to remember the humanity of every person present. And that humour is very important part of that.
This isn’t a movie review. This is me talking about how I felt about a classic movie that so many people have lauded. Good Morning, Vietnam to me is a movie that appeals to an older generation (mine included). I’ve a feeling that a movie like this wouldn’t truly appeal to the young people of today as so many would want a happy ending. You know the kind of ending I mean. Unrealistic, guy gets girl; guy keeps job… etc.
Definitely a movie I would recommend everyone watches, though. And one that I will now add to my top movies list.