What We Learn

As he is evacuated from a battle zone, Chris Taylor—Oliver Stone’s protagonist in Platoon—marches us through What It All Means. Only minutes before, Stone the director exploded Stone the actor playing an embattled camp commander—using a suicide bomber, no less. There might be dullards in the audience, however, so Taylor explains that we are at war with ourselves. On Taylor’s head is the bandana of the movie’s Christ figure, juxtaposed with facial wounds that approximate the scars of its demonic figure. No matter, he must explain to us the duality of man.

Stone’s instinct to lecture is understandable. If readers can miss Flannery O’Connor’s symbolism, the same could be expected of anything less subtle. A woman gored by a god-like bull, Parker’s wife beating the face of Jesus on his back with a broomstick—this imagery is thick with Catholic dogmatism, but it’s lost on those ignorant of dogma and the heresies that shaped it.

Not that this bothered O’Connor so much: she believed symbols lose their richness when we undertake to explain them. Chris Taylor’s monologue at the end of Platoon, however, reveals that Stone’s mission is pedagogical, to “teach others what we know.” He’s not just making art, you see. He needs you to know what he’s learned. [Read more…]