Hearts and Minds (1974)

hearts and minds poster 1974 movie
9.0 Overall Score

Powerful and thought provoking

Intentionally hard to watch

Movie Info

Movie Name: Hearts and Minds

Studio: BBS Productions

Genre(s): Documentary/War

Release Date(s): May 16, 1974 (Cannes)

MPAA Rating: R

hearts and minds vietnam protests

While protestors are vilified, the US takes a football mentality of winning at all cost

The Vietnam War is raging, but many are questioning what the war is for after decades of fighting.  While soldiers are taking the brunt of the criticism, it is the policy makers who seem to have lost touch.  With more and more young men being sent home scarred physically and mentally, a push to shop the war is led by taking a deep dive into the real price of the war for America, the Vietnamese, and the world.

Directed by Peter Davis, Hearts and Minds is a Vietnam War documentary.  The antiwar documentary had difficulty finding distributors in the United States due to its stance on the war but won an Academy Award for Best Documentary and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2018.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #156).

I was born not long after the end of the Vietnam War and even though the war was over, you could see remnanents of the war around in homeless people on the streets and in movies and TV.  The Vietnam War led to attacks on soldiers, but over the years, the reassessment of the real cost of the war has been explored…Hearts and Minds is one of the early looks at it.

hearts and minds vietnamese bombing victim

Good thing they stopped her

While most anti-war protestors were written off as hippies and disorganized pop-up protests and sit-ins, there was a real push and this documentary focuses on a solid, in-depth exploration of the ideas of the war.  This wasn’t popular back then and scenes with former National Security Advisor Walt Rostow show how even the filmmakers were derisively dismissed for daring to question the origins of the war since “that didn’t matter”.  The filmmakers talk to the policy makers and ask them some hard questions (which some don’t seem to like) and they also get on the ground and talk to some of the real victims of the war (like the Vietnam people on both the North and the South that got caught up in the fight).

Besides the argument with Rostow (which led to some of the legal disputes that stalled the movie’s release), the movie does provide more shocking moments.  Clips like the napalm girl Phan Thị Kim Phúc and the execution of Nguyễn Văn Lém are forever seared into the minds of Americans, but moments like General William Westmoreland stating that “The Oriental doesn’t put the same high price on life as does a Westerner” show ignorance and a mentality that allowed the war to get so out of hand.  These statements are smartly contrasted with film of a family grieving over the death of their son and a mother throwing herself on the grave…but I guess she didn’t realize she didn’t have emotions.

hearts and minds vietnamese funeral

Someone needs to tell this kid that “they” don’t value life

Hearts and Minds isn’t an easy documentary to watch.  There is a lot of carnage in it.  The film makes use of a lot of post fighting images and this might be a bit too much for some viewers…but that is also kind of the point.  If you can’t stand to look at the imagery of people dead, dismembered, or burned, why would you expect a soldier or any other human be immune to it?

Hearts and Minds is an important documentary.  Even as a kid they were still teaching the Red Scare and Domino Effect in school long after much of this had been disproven…it was rooted into me and my perceptions and pulling something out that is so deeply engrained is difficult…which is why it is important to collectively look at some of our teachings of the past.  A telling scene is that of a reflective Native American who says he couldn’t wait to kill Vietnamese “threatening” the U.S. despite growing up as a target of slurs and bullying…he and his hate was used to inflict more hate on people.  “How we got here” is a question that often needs to be answered and this isn’t the same as memorializing things.    Hearts and Minds shows how history repeats itself and the scary fact that some of the people arguing to “forget” were part of the problem…we can “forget” Vietnam, but remember other wars were we were the heroes.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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