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In the Year of the Pig (1968)


Yes, that's the same helmet slogan featured in Full Metal Jacket.
Yes, that's the same helmet slogan featured in Full Metal Jacket.

Genre: Documentary

Starring: Politicians and Military Men

Directed By: Emile de Antonio (Point of OrderMr. Hoover and I)

Overview: Talking heads, politicians and military brass discuss the whys and wherefores of these early days of American involvement in the Vietnam War.

In The Year of the Pig is a story shown using primarily war footage and interviews. It begins and ends with sardonic juxtaposition. Patriotic music plays while war rages, plays while we see real images of flaccid Vietnamese soldiers falling out of foliage because they’ve been shot to death. We see American men in suits talking about the conflict, one even daring to quote scripture: “Blessed are the peacemakers” he spouts, explaining away the killings in a foreign jungle. Shortly after this crisply-edited introduction, we learn about what brought us to this point. We learn of the French occupation of Vietnam, how it led to an Indochinese war of independence and why the Americans are there now. The documentary also touches on the how: how the Viet Kong take down US fighter jets, how they tunnel underground, and how they feel for their cause. One other wonderful piece of coverage features the story of Thich Quang Duc, the first Buddhist monk who self-immolated himself in public, burning in the street, unflinching for 10 minutes, as a protest against Buddhist persecution.

In The Year of the Pig is a strange sort of documentary. It speaks mostly of America’s military actions in the Vietnam War, a war that - I’d say at least – was the most controversial in American history. What makes In The Year of the Pig so unique in being a documentary of the Vietnamese conflict is that it tells its story not in 1975 when it had ended, but in 1968, at a point many would call ‘the beginning’. Now that I’ve seen this film, I’ve come to learn a thing or two about the muddied lines of when the conflict truly began, and I think it’s important that I go over these a little bit, since so much of In The Year of the Pig looks to the past to explain the present.

Many consider the Vietnam War as beginning on January 30th, 1968 with a large scale attack known as the Tet Offensive, only 8 months before the limited release of In The Year of the Pig in Boston’s theaters. The roots of the conflict itself actually begin as early as 1955 with American combat units arriving in 1965. This old history plays a very large part of de Antonio’s documentary; in fact I’d say it’s best reason to watch it. The education that comes from the introduction of the war is something seldom seen, and certainly not something I was familiar with.

The victims and the victimizers...
The victims and the victimizers...

What’s most interesting about In The Year of the Pig is that it speaks to us as though the story is already over, that the outcome is irrelevant. The fact that the Vietnam War ended so awkwardly is an interesting testament to this film’s predictive nature. With today’s hindsight, I think it’s this mood that has made In The Year of the Pig stand the test of time. I think it’s the reason we find it in the 1001 book. And, if nothing else, In The Year of the Pig made me want to learn more, not only for this film review, but to fill some historical gaps as well. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make me want to watch de Antonio’s documentary a second time; it makes me want to go elsewhere for my information, to a place where there isn’t a constant droning blabber that makes the words vanish from memory immediately.

I’ve read that In The Year of the Pig has ‘moments of anti-American sentiment’. I would entirely disagree. I think it’s completely one-sided and rather biased. It presents Ho Chi Minh as a freedom fighter and liberator while speaking of America as an aggressor - it’s not surprising that theaters playing this film received bomb threats. Whenever an American does say something sensible, it seems to be edited in a way that throws an ironic context onto it; perhaps that’s partly because we know how badly this conflict ended. I'm not saying all this because I felt the American side of this story needed to be better defended - quite the opposite - I'm just saying that In The Year of the Pig is not journalistically 'fair'.

In The Year of the Pig is less about soldiers and more about suits. Unfortunately politics is not in my official list of interests, and if it’s not in yours either, you may find yourself drowning in talking heads. I was happy to be educated on the history, but when it came to talk about the soc /poli-sci stuff, I just couldn’t stay focussed. Being extremely politically oriented, it’s interesting to see how people thought in those days - how they said such paranoid and xenophobic words in their speeches – but if you were looking for something that focussed more on the human side, you should avoid the extremely pollitically oriented In The Year of the Pig.

And that's the sitting Duc...
And there's Duc...

Performance: 6 Cinematography: 7 Script: 7 Plot: 7 Mood: 6

Overall Rating: 64% (A Little Sloppy)

In the Year of the Pig is a documentary I was looking forward to seeing for quite some time. Ever since I saw its cover, I eagerly awaited the day it would find its way to my screen. I knew I would love it. I knew it would teach me the futility of war. Unfortunately it spoke at me instead of to me. The poignant images were so plentiful as to get lost, and the stories were almost non-existent, replaced instead by political commentary, recounted usually in a coldly philosophical and newsy drone that put me to sleep. When I woke up and rewound it, very little of what I’d seen has stayed with me, leaving me to recall fonder memories of Winter Soldier (1972). Yes, Winter Soldier is less political, less cerebral, more impassioned and more human in its recounting of the worst this war had to offer. That’s my preference, and that’s my recommendation.

And P.S., if you’re still interested in seeing this, might I recommend you watch the 2003 The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara shortly thereafter, since he speaks a little on his Vietnam experiences. It would be an interesting juxtaposition to In The Year of the Pig, when he was a young U.S. Secretary of Defence.

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