*** Just a small little note before you get started, I began writing this review while still traveling through Cambodia (I was in Phnom Penh at the Eighty8 Backpackers hostel to be precise) and made the finishing touches back Stateside. Anyways, just felt like that was important, journalistic integrity or something… ***
This film is in existence because of an evil. That statement sounds simple, but carries truth. History is filled with every imaginable scenario, eliciting infinite reactions and emotions. If we were being honest, most films focus on stains in our history for their conflict (heroes vs. villains) and often bloody material. The Killing Fields is not different in that sense, though I applaud Hollywood for shining a light on a world conflict I not once ever heard about in school.
Though, let me first say I am not equipped to accurately cover the details of the Khmer Rouge’s hostile take over of Cambodia from 1975-1979. Nor can I fully understand the hardship and pain of the people who became victims of their own country. I am merely a 22-year-old American backpacker visiting Cambodia who has viewed a few tourist sites 40 years after the fact.
I sit comfortably in the bar of a wannabe party hostel, a $1 beer close by, and an empty plate that once housed a burger with fries on the table in front of me. I don’t understand this city and its history, I can only appreciate it for whatever that is worth.
But let’s get into it.
Before coming to Cambodia I had never heard of this film, it wasn’t even close to being on my radar. I can say with a discouraging amount of certainty its impact would have been cataclysmically different and the effort put into holding back tears would have been much less taxing. My unseasoned eyes would have written it off as just another political film with that guy from “Law & Order” and John Malkovich.
Roland Joffe’s intense drama begins with the days leading up to the Khmer Rogue’s hostile take over of Cambodia. New York Times journalist Sydney Schanberg (Sam Waterston) has arrived in Cambodia’s capitol with the intentions of seeking truth and a Pulitzer. Sydney is not a man worried about first impressions, he comes across both stubborn and rude. All of his cares belong to the story, the ink creating the words, the paper making them immortal.
Sydney has a local friend in Cambodia named Dith Pran (Haing S Ngor), a man of entirely different character, though similar conviction. “The story” means the world to Pran as it does to Sydney, this is clear through his actions. What sets Pran apart from his friend is the care he has for human beings from the start to end of the film. Pran helps people, cares for them, protects them, begs for them, carries them, and on and on and on. He is the light that shines through this dark film.
This film impressed me. Made in 1984, The Killing Fields was able to produce heart-pounding war scenes filled with so much reality and grit causing a healthy flow of the viewer’s emotions out of his/her eyes… well, at least this writer’s eyes. This film will exhaust your mental state as great films are supposed to do, while educating you on an important topic as great films are supposed to do. I only ask you do one thing before: do a little research!
Find out some information about Cambodia or the Khmer Rouge. Get a small inkling of what took place in Phnom Penh during 1975-1979 or simply Google “Pol Pot” and “asshole.” Let this film be an experience, let it give you everything it has to offer. Trust me, I am a 22-year-old American backpacker.
The Killing Fields (1984) directed by Roland Joffe