THE KILLING FIELDS (1984)

Sound Bites

I know of no parallel to the conditions which have been experienced in Cambodia over the past decade to any other experience I have had.  In the case of post-war Europe, there is the vast tragedy of the concentration camps. . . but thank God, the world had an immediate reaction and to this moment, there has been a sensitivity to events which happened forty years ago.  But, in the case of Cambodia, for some extraordinary reason, I am left with the strong impression that the world wants to forget the tragedy in Cambodia – they want to forget it!   (Sir Robert Jackson, deputy Secretary-General, United Nations, qtd. in Schanberg 1984)

After a while, one realizes that the filmmakers want Schanberg, who used Pran, to represent all of America – a needy superpower that brought a tiny country into a war and then abandoned it.  (Denby 121)

Now, more than ever before, we have lionized each other, given each other heroic dimensions.  It is mystical, but it is also unreal, and we know that we will have to deal with our respective warts and flaws and humanness in our relationship to come.  (Schanberg 1980, 52)

Pran says he was always most afraid of those Khmer Rouge soldiers who were between 12 and 15 years old; they seemed the most completely and savagely indoctrinated.  “They took them very young and taught them nothing but discipline.  They do not believe any religion or tradition except Khmer Rouge orders.  That’s why they killed their own people, even babies, like we might kill a mosquito.  I believe they did not have any feelings about human life because they were taught only discipline.”  (Schanberg 1980, 44)

According to Kurt Vonnegut in Slaughterhouse 5, “there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre.”  But The Killing Fields comes close.  (O’Brien 686)

I can only tell you my emotional reaction, getting to that country.  If I could have found the military or state department leader who has been the architect of this policy, my instinct would be to string him up.  Why they are there and what they have done to this country is greater evil than we have done to any country in the world, and wholly without reason, except for our own benefit to fight against the Vietnamese.  (“A congressman,” qtd. in Schanberg 1984, 22)

The entire political apparatus of this film lies in its choice of subject, NOT in the way it understands that subject.  Though it says, “This is a topic of interest,” it has nothing interesting to say about the topic; and in this way The Killing Fields is paradigmatic of the “serious” “political” film, hovering in anxiety over an abstract issue – war, poverty, corruption – embodied in a potboiler of a story (otherwise who would watch it?) sufficiently removed in space and/or time so that, while capable of raising anxiety in the moviegoer during the screening of the film, it is incapable of inviting the viewer to action, or even the contemplation of action. . . will it make you behave differently?  (Wood, 62-63)

But I kept going back to Phnom Penh; my obsession with the story was filling my life.  (Schanberg 1980, 19)

In other words, we are given to believe that the Cambodian revolution was both produced and shaped by U.S. policy.  That may be comforting to any lingering liberal antiwar sentiment that survives from the Vietnam era, but it is dangerously simplistic, and not politically useful.  (Kopkind 595)

“In the water wells, the bodies were like soup bones in broth,” he says.  “And you could always tell the killing grounds because the grass grew taller and greener where the bodies were buried.”  (Pran on the killing fields, qtd. in Schanberg 1980, 46)

In a way, the film holds up two quite opposite poles of behavior – the instinctual, silent getting-on-with-it Dith Pran, and the cerebral, introspective wallowing of Schanberg.  In this equation, the intellectuals lose.  (Benson 1)

The Killing Fields is still another cinematic male love story.  Yet this would have not been objectionable if the relationship were more complex.  (Denby 121)

It is difficult to describe how a friendship grows, for it often grows from seemingly contradictory roots – mutual needs, overlapping dependencies, intense shared experiences and even the inequality of status, with one serving the other.  (Schanberg 1980, 16)

Outsiders have asked, in the years since 1975, how a people known as the “smiling, gentle Khmers” could have produced such a holocaust.  The image of a bucolic, carefree people was, of course, simplistic – an illusion that foreigners preferred to see.  All cultures are complex and all have their hidden savage sides waiting to erupt.  The Nazi horror in World War II and the 1947 partition of India in which Hindus and Moslems slaughtered each other by the thousands are but two vivid examples.  Nonetheless, the Khmer Rouge terror may have touched a level of cruelty not seen before in our lifetime.  It was Cambodians endlessly killing other Cambodians.  (Schanberg 1980, 44)
 
 

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

This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of the U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the author is notified and no fee is charged for access.  Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the author.