The Deer Hunter has become a timeless classic for it’s fiercely loving embrace of life in a death ridden time. During the Vietnam war, American men were drafted and forced to fight in a war the government engineered to combat the spread of alternative political ideologies during the cold war. Though the Deer Hunter is an outstanding depiction of how war can change people, traumatize and isolate them.
But what is the significance of the time the men spend together camping and hunting. It’s implied that the group have been friends for a long time. In the beginning, deer hunting is depicted as a leisurely activity, being friends closer to nature and each other. It’s classic boyhood friendship, but when the war comes to them they find themselves changed by the events around them. Being forced to play Russian roulette in which the only winner is the last one alive who had to watch his fellow soldiers shoot themselves in the head. Hunting is a sport that many pursue for the thrill of it, this thrill is reflected by how the Vietnamese treat the protagonists, they are the prey of the hunters.
After their close encounter with the death, the men are obviously changed. De Niro’s character feels totally desensitized by what he’s seen and done. He no longer feel’s like he can just enjoy his old life again. To avoid his home coming party, he hid at a motel for the peace and quiet it offered. Christopher Walkins character had gone through this in the extreme as his character could barely function socially. Both heavily traumatized and trying to find meaning in their existence.
Iconically the deer hunting after the war was an entirely different experience. It wasn’t a leisurely sport for De Niro’s character. After they give up on the hunt, they return to the cabin and one of them become liberal showing off their new firearm. Pointing it at the others jokingly before De Niro’s character snaps from the aggression and imagery. In what seems to be the peak of the film, De Niro’s character loses his inhibition and begins forcing them to play a game of Russian roulette.