When Oliver Stone’s film, “Born on the Fourth of July,” hit theaters in 1989, it was received with critical acclaim and a slew of award nominations, including eight Oscar nods, and two wins. However, due to its strong political voice and sometimes gruesome account of the Vietnam War, it received backlash in equal force.
“It’s a harsh film,” Stone said, during a discussion following a screening of the film at the 2015 Virginia Film Festival.
While harsh, the film’s portrayal is not necessarily inaccurate.
As the story unfolded, Stone revealed many similarities between the main character Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise) and himself. Much like the young soldier at the beginning of the film, Stone was initially enthusiastic about joining the war.
“I wanted to experience war,” he said. “I wanted to do the ‘right thing.’”
And like Kovic, Stone’s view of the war and the American government soon turned sour. In the film, Cruise’s Kovic accidentally shoots a member of his own platoon, and when his executive officer disregards the incident, he is left with haunting guilt.
Stone said he also had experience with friendly fire in Vietnam.
“I think my first wound came from the sergeant in the hole behind me,” he said.
But unlike Kovic, Stone said he felt more anger than guilt in these situations, shaming the government for trying to ignore these “friendly casualties.”
Another aspect of American war that Stone said particularly bothers him today is our population’s attitude towards it.
“Do these people really know we’re at war?” he said in regards to America’s involvement in Iraq. “No one behaves like something really matters to them.”
Some of his suggestions to resolve this apathy involve resorting to a citizen army and rationing football games — a way of limiting public entertainment and focusing all attention on the war effort — in times of conflict.
Stone cited one positive result of his time in the army — he was able to enroll in New York University on the GI Bill, where he learned about the art of filmmaking.
Today, Stone is continuing his streak of thought-provoking films with his next piece, “Snowden,” a work about the controversial former CIA employee who leaked classified NSA documents to the public. According to Stone, his desire to make such contentious films stems from his own desire to discover the truth in life.
“We get Disney history in school,” he states. “If I’m going to go to the grave, I want to find out what happened in my lifetime.”