THE KILLING FIELDS (1984)

Scene Log

-- approximate times given are marked from the beginning of the film not the video tape --

The Killing Fields

0:00:18   Introduction to Cambodia
Voice-over of Sydney Schanberg describing Cambodia, as paradise, as victim of war.  Journalistic explanation of how “neutral” Cambodia became involved in the Vietnam War.  Schanberg introduces his friendship to Dith Pran.

0:01:17   Introduction to Dith Pran--August 7, 1973
Pran waits in an airport for Schanberg as we hear the radio reporting American news of Nixon, the Watergate scandal, and his denial of U.S. involvement in Cambodia.  Pran sees an ambulance speed by, hops into a waiting taxi, and heads off to the hospital.

0:03:09   Sydney Arrives in Cambodia
Schanberg searches for Pran as he exits customs.  Children direct Schanberg to his hotel.  Schanberg finds Al Rockoff, a fellow journalist and photographer, in the hotel room and tries to contact Pran.

0:05:30   Breakfast at Café Central
Schanberg and Rockoff joke-around over breakfast until they are interrupted by a bombing across the street.  Barely escaping death, Rockoff immediately shoots pictures, exclaiming “Did you see that?”  Pran finds Schanberg amid the chaos and gives his friend inside news about a possible United States bombing on a small city.

0:07:31   Schanberg and Pran at U.S. Air Base
Schanberg and Pran attempt to take a helicopter to Neak Long, where the supposed bombing occurred.  They are denied clearance by the “military attaché,” specifically, Major Reeves, who replies “no comment” to Schanberg’s inquiries into the bombing.

0:10:15   Schanberg and Pran Find an Alternate Route to Neak Long
As Sydney waits for Pran to provide transportation to Neak Long, a prominent governmental friend confirms the rumors that Neak Long was bombed due to “pilot error” and “computer malfunction.”  A homing beacon in the center of the small city “screwed up the coordinates” of a planned attack, resulting in hundreds of casualties.  Pran pulls through, and the two friends travel into the devastated city by boat.

0:14:57   Arrival in Neak Long; First Encounters With Khmer Rouge
Schanberg and Pran witness great loss, broken bodies, broken souls.  Children are screaming in the street; a woman describes the death of her husband.  The Khmer Rouge drives in and kills men in the street.  Sydney tries to photograph these atrocities and, along with Dith, is taken hostage by the Khmer Rouge.

0:18:45   Schanberg and Pran in Khmer Rouge Detainment
Schanberg is anxious to leave, demands permission to use the bathroom.  A young Khmer child shining a gun will allow Sydney “no piss.”  American helicopters arrive, freeing Schanberg and Pran from Khmer Rouge control.  “Military attaché” has been made aware of Schanberg and Pran’s entrance into Neak Long and sends in entire “press corps” to “sanitize the story.”

0:23:40   Pran Expresses Fears of Remaining in Cambodia
Sydney and Dith’s story on Neak Long makes the front page.  Pran expresses his wife’s fears for their future in Cambodia.  Schanberg reveals his intention to remain in Cambodia and “gently” persuades Pran to do the same.  Pran also plans to stay, and the two journalists investigate their next story: the possible attack by the Khmer Rouge on Airport Road.  This attack does occur, leading to mass chaos and a well-known scene in which a small girl screams alone in a truck and covering her ears to block out the loud gun shots.  (29:41-29:49)

0:29:54   United States Military/Government Plans to Leave Cambodia
Radio News program speaks of the Cambodian situation as “out of control” and reports that the capital, Phnom Penh, was taken by the Khmer Rouge.  United States Embassy packs up; picture of a former U.S. president taken down from wall.  Schanberg’s governmental friend Bob acknowledges that with the U.S. airlift leaving many Cambodians will starve and says, “we’re either staying or we’re living.”

0:33:10   Schanberg and Pran Decide to Stay
Radio News program reports that President Ford barely referred to Cambodia in his foreign policy speech except to say that “it may be too late.”  Sydney tells Dith that the United States is leaving, and they expect a lot of people to die.  Sydney also tells Dith that he plans to stay; Dith also stays – “I’m a reporter, too,” but his wife and children will leave.

0:37:01   The Evacuation
Helicopters fly in.  Major Reeves (Military attaché) checks the U.S. embassy for a final time.  Cambodians cling on fence of U.S. embassy, trying unsuccessfully to leave their country.  Rockoff photographs a young soldier taking down the American flag for a final time.  Pran reaches Embassy with family just in time--does not get a chance to say good-bye.

0:44:05   First Scenes of Cambodia after American Evacuation
Remaining journalists are told by the British Embassy that if things get “tough” their best bet is the French Embassy.  The Khmer Rouge parades through streets.  Cambodians think this parade is a sign of the war ending; in actuality it marks the beginning of the Khmer Rouge regime.  Pran, Schanberg, and Rockoff go to the hospital for a better idea on the state of the war.

0:50:11   The Reporters are taken by the Khmer Rouge
While leaving the hospital, Pran, Schanberg, Rockoff, and other reporters become painfully aware of the war that remains.  A tank blocks their escape and the young members of this violent party hold the reporters at gunpoint and then place them in the back of the tank.  The journalists are later taken out of the tank and forced to squat with guns pointed to their heads.  Pran begs for mercy, most likely offering compensation, and the reporters are freed as men beside them are shot in the street.

0:58:34   Khmer Rouge Forces Cambodians to Leave Their Homes
Rockoff photographs as thousands of Cambodians are forced out of their homes.  This mass evacuation is quite haunting, with images of children searching for parents, people gathering all their belongings, and thousands of Cambodians being prodded by machine guns to certain death.

1:01:03   Safety in the French Embassy
Embassy tries to prevent Pran from entering, but Schanberg explains that Pran is a reporter for the New York Times and should therefore be protected.  The radio news describes the picture in Cambodia as “unclear.”  Rockoff tries to joke around to keep everyone’s spirits up, but the journalists then have to witness the French Embassy turn all officials of Lon Nol government over to the Khmer Rouge.  The journalists lose their cheer, for they realize this means certain death for the officials and the solidification of the Khmer Rouge regime.

1:05:56  All Cambodians Must Leave the Embassy
The French Embassy is informed that all Cambodians must be turned over to the Khmer Rouge.  All inhabitants of the Embassy must report downstairs with their passports.  Pran’s friends realize that he will not last long if he is turned over to the Khmer Rouge because they “have killed every journalist they ever got.”

1:08:08  The Journalists Attempt to Save Pran
Pran plans to flee while he has the chance, but Sydney and Rockoff convince him to stay because they have an extra passport he can use.  Pran tries to remember his new name as Rockoff develops his picture in a makeshift darkroom.  After some frustrating failures, the journalists succeed in creating a fake British passport for Pran.

1:14:42  The Plan to Save Pran Fails
The journalists hand in their passports, only to find out that Pran’s new picture has faded.  Pran must leave, devastating news.

1:18:48  Pran’s Last Night
Pran expresses fear, and Schanberg expresses guilt and sadness.  Sydney tells Pran, “I should have gotten you out while I had the chance.”  Pran insists, “I am a reporter too, I chose to stay.”  As Pran leaves – “Tell my wife I love her.”

1:22:12  Schanberg in New York City
Sydney at New York Times trying to get information on Pran’s whereabouts.  He writes hundreds of letters with a picture of Pran attached to each one and sends them to various relief organizations in Cambodia.  Schanberg meets with Pran’s wife and tries to convince her that her husband is not dead, although he is unsure himself.

1:26:29  United States News Briefs on Cambodia
Schanberg watches disturbing images of Cambodia on the news.  Listens with disbelief as Nixon “lies” about the situation in Cambodia, claiming that there are/were no troops there but the U.S. will aid them.  Nixon says, “Cambodia is the Nixon Doctrine in its purest form.”

1:28:20  First Scenes of Pran in Khmer Rouge Camp
Thousands of Cambodians wearing straw hats to distinguish them from the KR labor on the countryside.  Pran is forced to work at gunpoint.  He snatches a lizard to eat later and attends “re-education” classes.

 
1:32:29  Pran’s First Inner Monologue to Sydney
Pran explains life in the camp.  He speaks of the “re-education” classes that teach “God is dead” and “Angka will provide everything now.”  Pran has learned that you must show “no understanding of French or English” and that “only the silent survive.”  We see children of the KR party randomly choosing to kill certain men, and Pran is narrowly missed as a victim a couple times.

1:37:01  Pran is Caught for Stealing Cow’s Blood
Pran sneaks into a stable to drink the blood of a cow for survival.  He is caught, beaten, tied to a tree and left for dead.  Later, Pran is saved by a child who remembers him from Airport Road (around 24:00).  There, Pran gave this boy a Mercedes emblem, which the boy appreciated enough to later save Pran’s life.

1:42:05  Pran’s Escape
As Pran and the other Cambodians work in a marshland, a young girl orders the death of a man whose hands are not chafed enough.  Pran manages to bury his hat in the muck during this commotion and as the camp packs up to leave, Pran hides in the water out of the Khmer Rouge’s view.  He waits until it is perfectly safe, then runs as fast as he can in the opposite direction.

1:44:56  Nightmare Sequence
Pran wanders through a beach-like marsh area.  Tired, he falls into the water and learns first-hand what the “killing fields” really are.  He notices that the sticks he was walking over were really the bones of millions of dead Cambodians.  A horrifying scene for both Pran and the audience.

1:46:40  Schanberg Wins Journalist of the Year
Back in the United States, Schanberg is awarded “Journalist of the Year” for his and Pran’s work in Cambodia.  Gives a political speech, asserting that the United States government was specifically responsible for the atrocities in Cambodia.

1:49:38  Schanberg’s Guilt About Pran’s Fate
Rockoff finds Schanberg in the bathroom at the convention center and accuses Sydney of gently forcing Pran to stay in Cambodia so he could win a journalism award.  Schanberg, questioned by reporters about his “shared responsibility” in Pran’s fate, chooses to blame the U.S. government, saying “maybe what we underestimated was the kind of insanity seven million dollars worth of bombing could produce.”  Yet, in private we see that Schanberg does feel responsible – “I never really gave him any choice…he stayed because I wanted him to stay.”

1:54:12  Khmer Rouge Takes Pran in as a Servant
A second Khmer Rouge group stumbles upon Pran and makes him a personal servant.  Pran spends much time caring for the leader of this second group's son and is careful not to reveal his knowledge of French or English, although he is asked.

1:57:48  Pran’s Second Inner Monologue to Sydney
Pran explains that he is “trapped” by the KR and that he cannot let on that he is  intelligent.  One night he is caught listening to an English-speaking radio news program, and the Khmer Rouge knows Pran was lying.  The leader is actually relieved that Pran speaks English, because he can entrust his son to Pran and admit that he fears for his life (a mutiny) without any other KR members understanding him.

2:00:26  Pran’s Third Inner Monologue to Sydney
The KR is expecting an attack by the Vietnamese and therefore destroy all the  food and supplies in the village.  The KR leader Pran befriends leaves him some money, supplies, and a map for the escape of Pran and the KR son.  As predicted, this KR leader is shot and killed by his own men.

2:05:38  The Escape Begins
Pran and several men are able to escape while the KR concentrates on fighting the Vietnamese.  They travel through Cambodian forests, empty cities, mountains, and valleys during their trek.

2:09:44  The Child Pran Saved from the Khmer Rouge Dies
Another man carrying the KR leader’s boy steps on a landmine.  Pran begs him  not to move, but the traveler does not listen and the mine goes off.  Pran cries at the loss of another person, cremates the child, and continues to walk alone in search of safety.  Finally (2:12:35) Pran finds a city and is safe.

2:12:53  Schanberg Hears of Pran’s Survival
Schanberg runs through the hallway at the New York Times and calls Pran’s family when he hears the good news.

2:14:12  Pran and Schanberg Reunite in Cambodia
Pran is working in the Red Cross and gets the message that someone is there to see him.  John Lennon’s “Imagine” plays in the background as these two friends embrace.
 
 

Copyright (c) 1999 by Wendy Elizabeth Kuhn, Undergraduate at Lehigh University.

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