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6 Movies like The Deer Hunter: Captured & Tortured

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Aljosa Drazovic itcherAll great films show psychological transformation of the characters. This process is painfully visible in movies like ‘The Deer Hunter’, where intentional physical and emotional duress is inflicted upon the heroes. POW’s and the horror they survived are the main themes in ‘The Hanoi Hilton’ and ‘Prisoners of the Sun’.~Aljosa Drazovic

Pain Is a Big Influencer

Some people have higher tolerance to pain and a more stable psychological profile, which allows them to stay composed even when the circumstances are completely outrageous.
In ‘The Deer Hunter’, U.S. soldiers are held by the Vietnamese forces and compelled to compete in a game of Russian roulette. One of them uses the game as an excuse to gain a gun and kill his captors, winning freedom for himself and his best friend. As it turns out, none of them will be able to erase the memories from the war, and the damage might be permanent.
Watching films like ‘The Deer Hunter’ is a traumatic experience, although I never had a problem trading a little bit of mental comfort for better understanding of the extent of human suffering. If you adhere to this school of thought, pick one (or more) titles from this list.

Movies Similar to ‘The Deer Hunter’…

‘The Hanoi Hilton’ (Lionel Chetwynd, 1987)

Thrown in a notorious Vietnamese prison and tortured on a daily basis, American POW’s are attempting to resist the pressure and remain loyal to their cause.

High patriotic ideals are difficult to maintain while enduring terrible pain and humiliation. At the other side, the prisoners strongly bond with each other and form a kind of an emergency support network.

The prison that gave the name to the film actually existed, and was the site of gross abuse throughout its existence, with thousands of inmates receiving harsh treatment.

Similarity Match: 90%
The films are describing the same conflict and choose the same central theme to start from. It’s fair to say ‘The Deer Hunter’ does a better job of tackling the broader issues.

‘Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence’ (Nagisa Oshima, 1983)

In a war, both sides believe to be physically and morally superior. This can be seen firsthand in a movie that puts Japanese and Allied soldiers next to each other in a prisoner of war camp.

When a translator, who understands the culture of Japanese captors better than his peers, tries to open up a communication line with the strict and racist camp commander, his actions will be seen as a betrayal by his brothers at arms.

The film is a powerful document about the inherent futility of war, and the constant threat of regression to savagery.

Similarity Match: 80%
While the film includes depictions of brutal punishment, it lacks the purely sadistic dimension that has such an important place in ‘The Deer Hunter’. On a positive side, that makes it more viewer-friendly.

‘Missing in Action’ (Joseph Zito, 1984)

I really don’t have much respect for Chuck Norris as an actor, but this film deals with the topic of POW treatment directly and it wouldn’t be fair to skip it.

In this flick, he portrays a stubborn veteran who survived a long stay in a camp. He returns to Vietnam several years after the war, on a mission to find the remaining soldiers who officially don’t exist.

Machine gun in his hands is the only ally he can trust on this mission. Then again, he is Chuck freaking Norris and he doesn’t need any help to blow everyone up.

Similarity Match: 75%
What a perfect example of the director’s powers to determine the film’s identity. The scripts are very similar, the finished films are nothing alike.

‘Prisoners of the Sun’ (Stephen Wallace, 1990)

Originally released under the name ‘Blood Oath’, this film is concerned with the destiny of Australian POW’s held by the Japanese in the island of Anbon during the World War II.

With no firsthand witness to tell the whole story, the military authorities don’t have enough evidence to prosecute the commander considered to be responsible for the atrocities. They work to discover mass graves and retrieve the bodies of the missing soldiers, hoping to bring the culprit to justice.

At times, the picture is really gruesome and haunting, showing the most disgusting acts in plain view without bothering to prepare the audience.  

Similarity Match: 75%
This film tells a similar story, but in retrospective. That setup allows for a more analytical approach, although it takes away some of the personalized drama.


If You Like ‘The Deer Hunter’, You Will Like…

Torture has been used systematically as a method to gain information and intimidate the enemy since times immemorial. That’s very depressing, though not nearly as much as the fact that even the most emancipated nations still allow this to happen. These two documentaries are dealing with the issue in a very direct manner.

‘Taxi to the Dark Side’ (Alex Gibney, 2007)

The case of the Afghan taxi driver who died under mysterious conditions while in custody of the U.S. forces serves as the springboard to explore a larger problem.

By lining up facts and driving conclusions, the film dares to ask the key question – how common is the use of torture in modern warfare?

The sides are flipped now – Americans are not the victims here. Also, on the formal note, this is not a feature film and lacks the narrative magic of ‘The Deer Hunter’.

‘The Road to Guantanamo’ (Matt Whitecross & Michael Winterbottom, 2006)

Guantanamo prison complex on Cuba is veiled in secrecy since its establishment, and often connected with rumors of brutal physical and psychological torment.

In this movie, you can follow the nightmarish experience of three detainees with British passports who were eventually released without ever being charged for any crime.

Half-documentary, half-dramatization – this is quite a flexible format and it could be the only choice for such a sensitive topic. It’s really not as patriotic-minded as ‘The Deer Hunter’.


You Can Escape. Forget – Not so Much.

Traumatic experiences don’t just go away, not when they are on a serious scale. Victims of torture remain vulnerable for a long time after their ordeal ends, and successful reintegration into the society is far from automatic.

The kind of physical and mental torture depicted in films like ‘The Deer Hunter’ leaves permanent marks on the soul. Looking death in the eye is a special kind of catharsis that can’t be compared with anything that regular people face.

Eliminating this practice is a job for politicians and judges, although filmmakers can help, too.

Did you watch any films on this topic recently? Could you share the titles you liked?

Aljosa Drazovic (1978) is a copywriter, screenwriter, blogger and poetry performer from Belgrade, Serbia. Armed with an analytic mind, a broad range of professional writing skills and a passion for alternative film-making, he is capable of delivering precise dissection of the storylines, performances and art work in a wide array of mainstream and indy films. Never the one to stick to convention, Aljosa is known for strong opinions that often stray from majority views.
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