Born New York City, son of a successful stockbroker and a French mother. Dropped out of Yale University 1965, taught English and history at Free Pacific Institute a Chinese school in Cholon area of Saigon, six months later worked as merchant seaman on tanker to return to US, tried to write novel, dropped out of university second time, then joined army to fight in VN in 1967. Started out very "gung ho" anti-communist crusader, disillusioned when he discovered soldier's prime concern was to survive so they could return home. Served 15 months in VN, injured in neck after 2 weeks during night ambush, several schrapnel wounds, medals for bravery (wiping out machine gun nest with hand grenade), admitted to killing innocent civilians. Discovered "black music" in Vietnam, especially Jimi Hendrix and The Doors. In recent interview OS claimed:
The '60s (music) was seminal to me, because that's when it first entered my consciousness, in Vietnam. And then, of course, marijuana at the same time and heavy acid. That's what governed the perversity of the imagery in Platoon - playing with the music against the jungle setting. Flying out near the Cambodian border, where we knew we were going to hit some shit, we'd be up in the helicopter and I'd be thinking of that Jefferson Airplane song, "Comin' Back to Me." It was a great love song, and I was in love with Grace Slick, I would have married her. I'd always hear that song going into an LZ... (Mark Rowland, "Stone Unturned," American Film, March 1991, p. 42.)
Returned to US 1968 very angry, disillusioned, alienated and paranoid. Became a drug user and spent time in jail. Attended NYU film school under GI bill and studied with Martin Scorcese. Graduated 1971 and began writing screenplays. Wrote screenplay of P during bicentennial of American Rev 1976 but could not get any American film makers to make it. Too hard, depressing and grim to made into film at that time. OS angrily concluded:
So I buried it again, accepting that the truth of that war would never come out because America was blind, a trasher of history, with no desire to know or to regret, for if we stopped and questioned ourselves, our optimism and self-confidence would be next. (Stone, "One from the Heart," p. 6.)
OS glad film made when it was, some 10 yrs later. Saw it as "a possible antidote to the reborn militarism of (Reagan presidency) Grenada, Libya, Nicaragua." Many of OS's films about events in the 1960s - believes idealistic youth like himself were somehow "betrayed":
For us, it starts with the Kennedy stuff, that's where the betrayal begins. Our lifetime is about betrayal as Americans. We all grew up believing in Howdy Doody (a children's TV character). Ron (Kovic in "Born on the Fourth of July") did, I did. You have value systems you were taught to believe in, and our parents were not really practising those values, they were practising adultery and lying and cheating and all the things that make life human, in the Balzacian sense of the word. So we are caught in that internal struggle between (that and) our idealism for an era that may never have existed - Dwight Eisenhower and early Ronald Reagan...
And each of us has to figure out: How do I handle betrayals? How do I handle the lies that I read in the newspapers on a daily basis?
The thing is, Morrison (of The Doors) was totally unpolitical. Yet the (song) "Unknown Soldier" was banned from the airwaves and the government was on his case. And what did it say, Vietnam was wrong? It didn't even say that. He was very subtle, Jim. I learned a lot, just being exposed to him. (Rowland interview, p. 43.)
Before Platoon OS wrote filmscripts for
The title reveals that the story will be told from the perspective of the "ordinary" foot soldier and his unit or platoon. The claim is that this is "every soldier's" perspective, in "every war"?
Unusual because it is one of the few films about the Vietnam war made by a veteran soldier. Quickly grossed over $100 million in USA but cost only $6 million to make. Won four Oscars including Best Film and Best Director. Established reputation of OS. Filmed in Philipines (in real tropical jungle unlike John Wayne's "Green Berets" filmed in arid Arizona with its association with John Ford's cavalry westerns) by British crew during revolution which overthrew Marcos. Based on OS's own experiences of 15 months in VN. Used veteran officer Cpt Dale Dye to train actors in gruelling 2 week combat course in jungle. US Defense Dept refused use of facitilites in Philipines because deemed script "totally unrealistic." Compare Wayne's "The Green Berets" to which they did give considerable military support. Regarded as a "second generation" VN film following on from films made in late 1970s. Literally second generation. Martin Sheen starred in Coppola's Apocalypse Now, son Charlie Sheen plays Chris Taylor in P. Father-son continuity.
Film is about a young volunteer, Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen), 21 yrs old, arrives in VN in September 1967 just a few months before the Tet offensive of January 1968. Middle class white who has dropped out of school in disillusionment. Hopes to find himself by serving his country like his grandfather and father did in WW1 and WW2. This is the war of his generation. Story told with voice overs - letters to CT's grandmother. Arrival in VN. Marching through jungle and CT suffers heat exhaustion. Jungle ambush of VC and where CT is injured, resulting in latrine duty with black soldiers. Intiation into group/family of pot smokers known as "Underworld" at base camp - includes Sgt. Elias. Discovery of NVA bunker complex and death of 3 soldiers - Sanderson and Sal by booby trap and Manny by guerrillas. Seeking revenge by committing atrocities in village ("My Lai" scene). CT comes close to going "over the edge" but pulls back. Bunny and Barnes commit atrocities. Fight between Sgt Elias and Sgt Barnes. CT takes E's side and stops rape of 12 yr old girl. Ambush of Americans by NVA and deaths by friendly fire. Shooting of E by B to stop him reporting atrocities in village. Takes place near ruins of 19th century French Catholic church. "Crucifiction" of E as B and CT escape in helicopter. Slow motion death of E, like Sam Peckinpah western. Also used by Kubrick in FMJ. Confrontation between B and CT in "Underworld". Perimeter overrun by NVA. Airstrike on own position. CT experiences the adrenalin induced "high of battle". CT finds injured B and kills him. Film ends with evacuation of injured CT. As he leaves he sees mountains of bodies being bulldozed into pit and Rhah looting NVA soldiers for drugs. 37 US KIA, 122 wounded. 500 NVA KIA, 22 wounded.
Platoon by Oliver Stone and Salvador by Oliver Stone and Richard Boyle. The Screenplays (London: Ebury Press, 1987). Oliver Stone, "One From the Heart," pp. 5-12.
Gilbert Adair, Hollywood's Vietnam: From "The Green Berets" to "Full Metal Jacket" (London: Heineman, 1989).
Lawrence W. Lichty and Raymond L. Carroll, "Fragments of War: Platoon," in American History/American Film: Interpreting the Hollywood Image, ed. John E. O'Connor et al. (New York: Ungar, 1988) (new edition), pp. 273-87.
Leo Cawley, "An Ex-Marine sees "Platoon"," Monthly Review, 1987-89, vol. 39, pp. 6-18.
The Norton Book of Modern War, ed. Paul Fussell (New York: W.W. Norton, 1991).
William Adams,. "Platoon: Of Heroes and Demons," Dissent, 1987, vol. 34, p. 383.
I think now, looking back, we did not fight the enemy, we fought ourselves - and the enemy was in us... The war is over for me now, but it will always be there - the rest of my days. As I am sure Elias will be - fighting with Barnes for what Rhah called possession of my soul. There are times since I have felt like the child born of those two fathers (like Oscar in "The Tin Drum"?)... but be that as it may, those of us who did make it have an obligation to build again, to teach others what we know and to try with what's left of our lives to find a goodness and meaning to this life... (Screenplay, p. 129).
It was from these roots that the esssential conflict between Elias and Barnes grew in my mind. Two gods. Two different views of the war. The angry Achilles versus the conscience-stricken Hector fighting for a lost cause on the dusty plains of Troy. It mirrored the very civil war that I'd witnessed in all the units I was in - on the one hand, the lifers, the juicers [those who drank alcohol], and the moron white element (part Southern, part rural) against, on the other, the hippie, dope smoking, black and progressive white element (although there were exceptions in all categories, and some lifers did more dope than I ever dreamed). Right versus Left. And I would act as Ishmael, the observer, caught between those two giant forces. At first a watcher. Then forced to act - to take responsability and a moral stand. And in the process to grow to a manhood I'd never dreamed I'd have to grow to. To a place where in order to go on existing I'd have to shed the innocence and accept the evil the Homeric gods had thrown out into the world. To be both good and evil. To move from this East Coast social product to a more visceral manhood, where I finally felt the war not only in my head, but in my gut and soul. (OS, intro, pp. 9-10).
...we been kicking other people's asses so long I guess it is time we got our own kicked. The only decent thing I can see coming out of here are the survivors - hundreds of thousands of guys like you Taylor going back to every little town in the country knowing something about what it is like to take a life and what that can do to a person's soul - twist it like Barnes and Bunny and make 'em sick inside and if you got any brains you gonna fight it the rest of your life cause it's cheap, killing is cheap, the cheapest thing I know and when some drunk like O'Neill starts glorifying it, you're gonna puke all over him and when the politicians start selling you a used war all over again, you and your generation gonna say go fuck yourself 'cause you know, you've seen it, and when you know it, deep down there...(he hits CT in the gut with his fist) ... you know it till you die... that's why the survivors remember. 'Cause the dead don't let em forget. (Screenplay, pp. 79-80).