The Killing Fields (1984)

Hard to say why I didn’t like the The Killing Fields despite the fact that War and Journalism is a topic that I find fascinating and that this movie is considered to be one of the best of the genre. One of the problems I had was the length. The other one was the score. That’s such a dated score, it ruined the movie to a large extent.

The Killing Fields is based on a true story and one of the first movies whose topic was the genocide of Cambodian people by Pol Pot. The two journalists Sydney Schanberg and Dith Pran have been covering the war in Cambodia since the early 70s. They are not only dedicated journalists but close friends. Pran serves as interpreter on their missions.

In 1975 when the United States withdraw from the country and the Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, advance on Phnom Penh, Pran, as a US sympathizer is in great danger. There was a moment when he and Syd could have left the country easily but things have developed too fast and now it’s hardly possible for anyone but US and European citizens to leave the country.

Knowing what would happen to Pran if he stayed, Syd and some fellow journalist try to forge a US passport for him. Unfortunately the attempt fails and while his children and his wife have been able to fly out, Pran is left behind when the other journalists leave. Captured by the Khmer Rouge he is brought to a labour camp.

In the second half the movie moves back and forth between a guilt-ridden Syd in the US, and Pran’s ordeal in the Cambodian labour camp. In imaginary letters that he writes to Syd in his head, he tells him what happens, interprets what we see. I’m not sure if this was a problem of my DVD but none of the parts spoken in Khmer have been subtitled.

The parts in the labour camp are very well done. This isn’t only a labour camp. The labourers and especially the children are re-educated and brainwashed. They have to unlearn everything that they knew before. It’s of great danger to have “forbidden” knowledge, like foreign languages or any higher education. The children are easily turned into little fanatics and the grownups who are afraid of being executed try their best to obey.

The Pol Pot regime was a systematic genocide and far over 2 million people were killed. Even though I didn’t particularly like it, I must admit the movie has its merits. And the Cambodian actor, Haing S. Ngor gave a very touching and convincing performance.

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12 thoughts on “The Killing Fields (1984)

  1. jeffro517 says:

    I think you’re underrating this movie a bit. It was nominated for seven Oscars and won three. Sad that you didn’t like it, but I enjoyed the write-up.

    • Thanks, jeffro and I can’t even disagree with you. I saw the merit but I felt it was dated and that’s linked to the score and some overlong scenes. I think one of the Oscars went to the Cambodian actor and that is really deserved. Without music it would have been much more powerful.

  2. TBM says:

    I haven’t seen this one. it is interesting that you didn’t like it because of the music. I just watched Platoon and one of the things I really enjoyed was the music in the movie.

    • Platoon is in my Top 5. There is nothig in that movie that I don’t like.

      • TBM says:

        It is a great film. It always has me on the edge of my seat…so many chilling moments.

        Would you mind if I linked to this article since I wanted to mention how a score can make a movie?

      • No, of course not, go ahead.
        I was planning on doing a similar post one day because I think that one of the reasons why I love Black Hawk Down, Gladiator and King Arthur is the score. If it’s well done it’s so great.

      • TBM says:

        Thanks! I didn’t think you would mind, but before mentioning one of the reasons why you didn’t like a movie I wanted to give you the heads up just in case.

        I haven’t seen King Arthur. I’ll add that to my list.

      • I love King Arthur and still haven’t reviewed it. Like most of my favourites by the way. the Thin Red Line is the only one and I did a 5 part review. Part 5 is still due though…

  3. warmoviebuff says:

    I have this on my TBW list. I might move it up to see which of you is right. I saw it a long time ago and do not remember it at all.

    • That’s my point, it’s dated. There are too many excellent POW movies and movies on War and Journalism once you’ve seen those, this one is a bit flat. Btw – I didn’t say it’s not good. I said I don’t like it. So neither of us can be wrong as my statement is my personal opinion while jeffro mentions a more objective assessment. You can just find out whether you like it or not.

  4. […] sixties.  The other day I was reading Caroline’s blog All About War Movies and her review of the The Killing Fields.  She writes that the score felt outdated for her and that ruined the film experience.  I think […]

  5. […] On the other hand I’ve seen a few movies who would have been good with other or no music. In those cases the choice was so bad, it really damaged the film. One of those examples is The Killing Fields. […]

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