domingo, 8 de mayo de 2016

The Killing Fields is really a movie about two things—the human condition and the essence of love

The Horrors of Communism: Roland Joffe’s “The Killing Fields”

by Bradley J. Birzer

In the late winter/early spring of 1985, I attended a showing of the most immersive and artful movie I had yet encountered in my life: Roland Joffe’s The Killing Fields. Growing up in a Goldwater household in a conservative Kansas town, I was nothing if not a pure Reaganite, a student (such that only 17-year-olds can be) and hater of ideologies of the left and the right. Growing up in a rather idyllic setting, however, meant that my view of the world was rather limited. I knew how horribly the ideologues of the world treated their citizens, but I certainly had nothing but my reading to go on. I felt for the Russian people, but they were also as distant to me in central Kansas as were the Martians. I knew a lot, especially for a teenager, but it was all from books. The Killing Fields opened entirely new worlds to me. It made the horrors of communism palpable in ways even the greatest books could not. And, it demonstrated to me—rather conclusively—that cinema as a medium can reach the level of the greatest art. I still consider it the single greatest movie I have ever seen, and I watch it yearly. Only weeks after watching the movie in the theater, I wrote my entrance essay for the University of Notre Dame on a “work of art that changed my life.” I chose, not surprisingly, The Killing Fields.

Based on the true events of a New York Times employee, Dith Pran, (a native Cambodian—Khmer) who has to escape the Cambodian gulag, circa 1976, the movie follows Pran through his horrific and terrifying escape from the Khmer Rouge, a journey that took four years from beginning to end. The actor who plays Dith Pran, Dr. Haing Ngor, had experienced almost the exact same persecution and escape from his native country. Ironically, Haing Ngor escaped from Cambodia only to be mugged and murdered in the driveway of his Chinatown-Los Angeles home in 1996. The two main characters of the movie—Sidney and Pran—separate in 1975 after the fall of Phnom Penn but reunite in 1979 at the conclusion of the movie, as they had in real life.

Historical background
The Kingdom of Cambodia, a French colony, was one of the most stable countries in southeast Asia in the 1960s. Industrializing and converting, quickly, to Christianity, the country enjoyed a prosperity that eluded its neighbors, Vietnam and Laos.

In 1969, President Richard Nixon began a secret, illegal, and unconstitutional incursion into Cambodia, correctly believing that Vietnamese communists were using rural parts of the country to transport weapons from North Vietnam to South Vietnam. He ordered carpet-bombing as well as the establishment of military bases in Cambodia. The struggle between American and communist forces quickly destabilized the region, radicalizing many of the already-radical elements in the country.

The most important of the insurgents was a group of existentialist communists, the Khmer Rouge (Red Cambodians), under the leadership of Pol Pot (an assumed name and title) and his organization, The Ankor (The Organization). Pol Pot (1925-1998) was born, Saloth Sar. Though a Roman Catholic and a devout Jeffersonian coming out of high school, Sar attended university in in Paris, from 1949 to 1953, where he came under the influence of several Marxists and, especially, under the influence of the radical, former Nazi-collaborator-turned-communist, philosopher Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980).

When Sar returned to Cambodia in 1953, he allied himself with Vietnamese communists and dedicated himself to the overthrow of western society in Cambodia, taking the name Pol Pot. He and his organization,the Ankor, led by a number of Ph.D. students from France (all Cambodian), became the center of Marxist revolution.

Their Marxism, perhaps the most radical ever to gain power anywhere, was existentialist and anti-urban to the extreme. In a way that seems a pure contradiction to most in the West, Pol Pot fused Marx and Jefferson, taking the hatred of the wealthy from the former and the fear of cities from the latter.

When South Vietnam fell to the communists (in April 1975), and the Americans abandoned their long-time allies, Cambodia fell to the Khmer Rouge. Immediately upon taking over the country, the Khmer Rouge forced all Cambodians out of the cities, putting them to work (mostly in “make-work” projects) throughout the countryside.

Any person possessing any religious background at all, or any education past eighth grade, or foreign language skills (anything other than Khmer and French) was immediately executed. Any display of emotion—happiness, sorrow, anguish—also led to immediate execution, as emotions were defined as middle-class constructs.


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