When Vietnam was falling to
The ever-spreading Communists,
Cambodia was next in line,
Braved only by some journalists.
One such is Sydney Schanberg, who’s
A writer for The New York Times,
And risks his life to detail both
American and local crimes.
His translator and colleague is
Cambodian Dith Pran, who aids
Syd’s efforts to expose the truth,
But then the enemy invades.
The U.S. embassy bugs out
Before the Khmer Rouge arrive.
Pran sends his family away
But stays and hopes he will survive.
When Sydney and some others are
Arrested fast and violently,
It seems they might be executed
Until Pran helps set them free.
The French take in the group, but Pran
Must stay, a fate that’s undefined.
Despite a forged passport for him,
It fails, and Pran is left behind.
While Sydney rakes in accolades
For stories of his work abroad,
His friend is forced into a camp
Where freedom’s dead and so is God.
The leaders teach the children there
To hate and murder many men,
And those who miss their former lives
Are caught and never seen again.
An act of mercy sets Pran free
To flee through dangerous unknowns.
His daunting journey ushers him
Through fields of bodies, pits of bones.
Enduring hell for four long years,
Pran sights Thailand and knows he’ll live.
He reunites with Sydney too
And says there’s “nothing to forgive.”

The Killing Fields is an undeniably powerful story of Communist brutality and the human will to survive. For having never acted before, Dr. Haing S. Ngor does an incredible job as the persistent Dith Pran, and his Oscar-winning role is the main draw for a movie that puts a spotlight on a sad time in history.

I could compare The Killing Fields to that more recent Oscar winner about ethnic suffering Slumdog Millionaire. Both are extremely well-made films, but the bulk of their running time is, quite honestly, difficult to watch, though the endings of both are supremely satisfying and almost make up for all the heartache that preceded. However, while Slumdog Millionaire presented the squalid conditions in India just for the sake of showing them, The Killing Fields manages to be exciting and more thought-provoking in the process. The scenes showing the characters at gunpoint are so unnerving that my heart couldn’t help but beat faster. Also, while there are certainly some gruesome scenes, including some shocking executions, the violence for the most part is comparatively restrained.

Such restraint does not carry over to the language department, and several characters, especially John Malkovich, let F-words and profanity just roll off their tongues. Also, while Pran and, to a lesser extent, Sydney are very sympathetic (if unwise for remaining in Cambodia), my VC pointed out that the majority of the secondary characters have little backstory or character development. As with many powerful films, including some higher up on this list, The Killing Fields may not be very entertaining, but it is a film that needs to be seen, if only as a reminder so that such atrocities are never repeated.

Best line: (Pran’s voiceover while in the camp) “The wind whispers of fear and hate. The war has killed love. And those that confess to the Angka are punished, and no one dare ask where they go. Here, only the silent survive.”

Artistry: 7
Characters/Actors: 9
Entertainment: 4
Visual Effects: 6
Originality: 7
Watchability: 4
Other (violence and language): -7
TOTAL: 30 out of 60

Tomorrow: #319: Sneakers

© 2014 S. G. Liput