Born New York City, son of a successful stockbroker and a French mother. Dropped out of Yale University 1965, taught English and history at Free Pacific Institute a Chinese school in Cholon area of Saigon, six months later worked as merchant seaman on tanker to return to US, tried to write novel, dropped out of university second time, then joined army to fight in VN in 1967. Started out very "gung ho" anti-communist crusader, disillusioned when he discovered soldier's prime concern was to survive so they could return home. Served 15 months in VN, injured in neck after 2 weeks during night ambush, several schrapnel wounds, medals for bravery (wiping out machine gun nest with hand grenade), admitted to killing innocent civilians. Discovered "black music" in Vietnam, especially Jimi Hendrix and The Doors. In recent interview OS claimed:

The '60s (music) was seminal to me, because that's when it first entered my consciousness, in Vietnam. And then, of course, marijuana at the same time and heavy acid. That's what governed the perversity of the imagery in Platoon - playing with the music against the jungle setting. Flying out near the Cambodian border, where we knew we were going to hit some shit, we'd be up in the helicopter and I'd be thinking of that Jefferson Airplane song, "Comin' Back to Me." It was a great love song, and I was in love with Grace Slick, I would have married her. I'd always hear that song going into an LZ... (Mark Rowland, "Stone Unturned," American Film, March 1991, p. 42.)

Returned to US 1968 very angry, disillusioned, alienated and paranoid. Became a drug user and spent time in jail. Attended NYU film school under GI bill and studied with Martin Scorcese. Graduated 1971 and began writing screenplays. Wrote screenplay of P during bicentennial of American Rev 1976 but could not get any American film makers to make it. Too hard, depressing and grim to made into film at that time. OS angrily concluded:

So I buried it again, accepting that the truth of that war would never come out because America was blind, a trasher of history, with no desire to know or to regret, for if we stopped and questioned ourselves, our optimism and self-confidence would be next. (Stone, "One from the Heart," p. 6.)

OS glad film made when it was, some 10 yrs later. Saw it as "a possible antidote to the reborn militarism of (Reagan presidency) Grenada, Libya, Nicaragua." Many of OS's films about events in the 1960s - believes idealistic youth like himself were somehow "betrayed":

For us, it starts with the Kennedy stuff, that's where the betrayal begins. Our lifetime is about betrayal as Americans. We all grew up believing in Howdy Doody (a children's TV character). Ron (Kovic in "Born on the Fourth of July") did, I did. You have value systems you were taught to believe in, and our parents were not really practising those values, they were practising adultery and lying and cheating and all the things that make life human, in the Balzacian sense of the word. So we are caught in that internal struggle between (that and) our idealism for an era that may never have existed - Dwight Eisenhower and early Ronald Reagan...

And each of us has to figure out: How do I handle betrayals? How do I handle the lies that I read in the newspapers on a daily basis?

The thing is, Morrison (of The Doors) was totally unpolitical. Yet the (song) "Unknown Soldier" was banned from the airwaves and the government was on his case. And what did it say, Vietnam was wrong? It didn't even say that. He was very subtle, Jim. I learned a lot, just being exposed to him. (Rowland interview, p. 43.)


Before Platoon OS wrote filmscripts for

  • Alan Parker's Midnight Express,
  • Brian de Palma's Scarface,
  • Michael Cimino's Year of the Dragon.


  • Salvador (1986) semi-fictional account of American journalist Richard Boyle
  • Wall St (1987) and
  • second film about VN Born on the 4th of July (1989) about Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise) disabled veteran
  • JFK (1991) about conspiracy to assassinate reformist President by renegades in military and intelligence services
  • Heaven and Earth (1993) film about Vietnam from "the other side"
  • The Doors (1991) about the singer Morrison
  • Natural Born Killers (1994).


Meaning of the Title

The title reveals that the story will be told from the perspective of the "ordinary" foot soldier and his unit or platoon. The claim is that this is "every soldier's" perspective, in "every war"?


  • Tom Berenger - Sgt Barnes
  • Willem Dafoe - Sgt. Elias
  • Charlie Sheen - Chris Taylor
  • Forest Whitaker - Big Harold
  • Francesco Quinn - Rhah
  • John C. McGinley - Sgt O'Neill
  • Richard Edson - Sal
  • Kevin Dillon - Bunny
  • Reggie Johnson - Junior
  • Keith David - King
  • Johnny Depp - Lerner
  • David Neidorf - Tex
  • Mark Moses - Lt. Wolfe
  • Chris Pedersen - Crawford
  • Oliver Stone - officer in bunker
  • Cpt. Dale Dye - military advisor and "other officer"

Unusual because it is one of the few films about the Vietnam war made by a veteran soldier. Quickly grossed over $100 million in USA but cost only $6 million to make. Won four Oscars including Best Film and Best Director. Established reputation of OS. Filmed in Philipines (in real tropical jungle unlike John Wayne's "Green Berets" filmed in arid Arizona with its association with John Ford's cavalry westerns) by British crew during revolution which overthrew Marcos. Based on OS's own experiences of 15 months in VN. Used veteran officer Cpt Dale Dye to train actors in gruelling 2 week combat course in jungle. US Defense Dept refused use of facitilites in Philipines because deemed script "totally unrealistic." Compare Wayne's "The Green Berets" to which they did give considerable military support. Regarded as a "second generation" VN film following on from films made in late 1970s. Literally second generation. Martin Sheen starred in Coppola's Apocalypse Now, son Charlie Sheen plays Chris Taylor in P. Father-son continuity.

Film is about a young volunteer, Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen), 21 yrs old, arrives in VN in September 1967 just a few months before the Tet offensive of January 1968. Middle class white who has dropped out of school in disillusionment. Hopes to find himself by serving his country like his grandfather and father did in WW1 and WW2. This is the war of his generation. Story told with voice overs - letters to CT's grandmother. Arrival in VN. Marching through jungle and CT suffers heat exhaustion. Jungle ambush of VC and where CT is injured, resulting in latrine duty with black soldiers. Intiation into group/family of pot smokers known as "Underworld" at base camp - includes Sgt. Elias. Discovery of NVA bunker complex and death of 3 soldiers - Sanderson and Sal by booby trap and Manny by guerrillas. Seeking revenge by committing atrocities in village ("My Lai" scene). CT comes close to going "over the edge" but pulls back. Bunny and Barnes commit atrocities. Fight between Sgt Elias and Sgt Barnes. CT takes E's side and stops rape of 12 yr old girl. Ambush of Americans by NVA and deaths by friendly fire. Shooting of E by B to stop him reporting atrocities in village. Takes place near ruins of 19th century French Catholic church. "Crucifiction" of E as B and CT escape in helicopter. Slow motion death of E, like Sam Peckinpah western. Also used by Kubrick in FMJ. Confrontation between B and CT in "Underworld". Perimeter overrun by NVA. Airstrike on own position. CT experiences the adrenalin induced "high of battle". CT finds injured B and kills him. Film ends with evacuation of injured CT. As he leaves he sees mountains of bodies being bulldozed into pit and Rhah looting NVA soldiers for drugs. 37 US KIA, 122 wounded. 500 NVA KIA, 22 wounded.


Platoon by Oliver Stone and Salvador by Oliver Stone and Richard Boyle. The Screenplays (London: Ebury Press, 1987). Oliver Stone, "One From the Heart," pp. 5-12.

Gilbert Adair, Hollywood's Vietnam: From "The Green Berets" to "Full Metal Jacket" (London: Heineman, 1989).

Lawrence W. Lichty and Raymond L. Carroll, "Fragments of War: Platoon," in American History/American Film: Interpreting the Hollywood Image, ed. John E. O'Connor et al. (New York: Ungar, 1988) (new edition), pp. 273-87.

Leo Cawley, "An Ex-Marine sees "Platoon"," Monthly Review, 1987-89, vol. 39, pp. 6-18.

The Norton Book of Modern War, ed. Paul Fussell (New York: W.W. Norton, 1991).

William Adams,. "Platoon: Of Heroes and Demons," Dissent, 1987, vol. 34, p. 383.


  • The "realism" of the film. Strong impression that we are there. Almost tangible foliage, climate, geography. Hostility of environment of VN jungle. Insects, snakes, heat, dust, malaria, rivers, fungal diseases (feet and crotch). Camera always inside jungle to give impression of soldiers' view surrounded by hostile environment. Only given soldiers' perspective (thus a democratic one?). No privileged overview from officers' perspective. The use of veteran's like Captain Dale Dye as technical advisor (and bit part in film). In the additional material included with the LD version of the film Dye states that they wanted to show veterans how authentic their film was by including small things in the film that only they would know about: the way CT holds and fires his rifle, checking the breech to see if it was empty, the bracelet black soldiers wore made of braided combat boot laces, etc. The packaging of the LD special edition - "All elements are packaged and bound like a Vietnam Veteran's scrapbook of his tour of duty." It includes photos of OS in Vietnam together with photos of the actors and crew on location.
  • The claims made by the filmmaker and some magazines like Time which had as its cover story of January 26 1987 "Platoon: Vietnam As It Really Was". Or Stone's comment in an interview - "Essentially what I wanted to say was, Remember. Just remember what that war was. Remember what war is." Even veteran reviewers who criticise OS's "college-literary symbolism of the plot" and "its romanticization of violence" and its depoliticization and de-historicization of the conflict admit that he succeeds in giving us the "grunts-eye-view" of the war with details which are "authentic and compelling". (Cawley)
  • Aspects of film which are not authentic (Leo Cawley): backlit enemy patrol at ambush (jungle jet black); 99% boredom and monotony; air war largley ignored, absence of camp followers (barbers, hookers, laundry boys), presence of superhero killers who are "violence junkies" (Barnes and Elias). Latter criticism challenged by Michael Clodfelter who describes similar pairing of Welch and Tate in his "Hard Core" squad. (Quoted in Fussell, pp. 685-6).
  • First 1960s song we hear is Grace Slick's "White Rabbit" (see quote p.1)
  • The problem of the disappearing Vietnamese. The enemy (VC/NVA) remains hidden for most of the film. Exists just off camera, hidden by jungle, as fleeting shadows, or corpses. We see the face of a VC soldier only once as he bayonettes a black soldier. OS suggests that the "real" enemy is within "us" (i.e. the Americans).
  • Symbolism of the Sgt Elias/Barnes conflict - a veritable "civil war" within the platoon reflecting the "civil war" taking place in US. On surface P is a "realistic" film about VN. Underneath very rich and complex symbolism. Allegory of schism which VN war opened up in US society. Doveish and hawkish aspects of American politics and individual soldiers. Final voice over CT says:

I think now, looking back, we did not fight the enemy, we fought ourselves - and the enemy was in us... The war is over for me now, but it will always be there - the rest of my days. As I am sure Elias will be - fighting with Barnes for what Rhah called possession of my soul. There are times since I have felt like the child born of those two fathers (like Oscar in "The Tin Drum"?)... but be that as it may, those of us who did make it have an obligation to build again, to teach others what we know and to try with what's left of our lives to find a goodness and meaning to this life... (Screenplay, p. 129).

  • Sergeant Elias
  • : "Jesus-gentle Elias" (term used by Gilbert Adair) played by Willem Dafoe who later played Christ in Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ. Based on a soldier OS knew in VN. Handsome, with some Apache blood. OS: "Elias was everything we were to later recognize in Jim Morrison and Joplin and Hendrix, he was a rock star but played it out as a soldier; real danger turned him on." (p.8). Smoked dope, annoyed some of the professional soldiers, eventually killed by a friendly grenade, suspected fragging by a "lifer" (i.e. a regular soldier).
  • Sgt Barnes
  • (Tom Berenger): OS called him "the ego of our rage," "the Captain Ahab of the platoon", "someone with evil in his heart." Also a mythic figure, an Achilles or warrior king. Also based an real soldier OS knew in VN. OS carried his radio for him. OS feared and respected him as best soldier he ever knew. Feared him because B sick inside because he wanted to kill too much. Received multiple wounds (6-7 times) including bullet in right eye which caused horrible scar. Conflict in OS between attraction for two God-like figures, one good one evil. CT only released from his dilemma by killing B. But in doing so he becomes a killer just like B.
  • The film reviewer William Adams calls movie "a fable of heroism" and that many of those who fought in Vietnam cut their teeth on Audie Murphy and John Wayne, who were our Achilles and Aeneas, ancient longings in modern form". The allusions to classical Greek heroes Hector and Achilles. E and B as Hector and Achilles of ancient legend. Hector eldest son of King Priam of Troy. H leads Trojans into battle against Greeks. H kills Patroclus. In revenge Achilles kills H and drags H's mutilated body around walls of Troy behind his chariot. Old King Priam begs for H's body. H's funeral closes Iliad. OS's intro to screenplay:

It was from these roots that the esssential conflict between Elias and Barnes grew in my mind. Two gods. Two different views of the war. The angry Achilles versus the conscience-stricken Hector fighting for a lost cause on the dusty plains of Troy. It mirrored the very civil war that I'd witnessed in all the units I was in - on the one hand, the lifers, the juicers [those who drank alcohol], and the moron white element (part Southern, part rural) against, on the other, the hippie, dope smoking, black and progressive white element (although there were exceptions in all categories, and some lifers did more dope than I ever dreamed). Right versus Left. And I would act as Ishmael, the observer, caught between those two giant forces. At first a watcher. Then forced to act - to take responsability and a moral stand. And in the process to grow to a manhood I'd never dreamed I'd have to grow to. To a place where in order to go on existing I'd have to shed the innocence and accept the evil the Homeric gods had thrown out into the world. To be both good and evil. To move from this East Coast social product to a more visceral manhood, where I finally felt the war not only in my head, but in my gut and soul. (OS, intro, pp. 9-10).

  • The Christian symbolism and many biblical references. Film begins with ironic quote from Ecclesiastes: "Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth." See also 4. 1-3; 9.3; 9.11; 12.1, 12.13-14. "For God shall bring every work into judgement, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil." Ecc. 12. 14. Elias has biblical sounding name - Elijah, Isaiah. Christ figure - manner of his death with outstretched arms like crucifiction (E "falls to his knees, still stretching upwards for life" and explicitly OS says "Elias crucified" p. 97. Compare with Goya's painting "Third of May" - image of man about to be executed). E returns alone to old church to head off NVA ambush. B shoots him near old French church. OS calls E a "waterwalker" (p. 75). Married a "Jezebel". Barnes wounded 7 times (number 7 has religious significance. See "Revelation" 7 angels with 7 trumpets). Reincarnation/resurrection. CT then asks E about reincarnation and E says he wants to come back as a deer. First thing CT sees when he regains consciousness after airstrike is a deer in the jungle. Spirit of E - "sign of grace - the grace of Elias." Awakes at dawn to "a holy light" and a "garden of Eden." VN like a Garden of Eden. Adair - "neo-Boschian Garden of Eden, an Eden bereft of Eves but rife with serpents" (p. 147). Barnes perhaps most dangerous serpent. When CT finds injured B crawling (like a snake) OS describes him as "re-emerging from the dead." (p.125). Name of CT - Chris/Christ tempted by good and evil. CT turns away from evil in village. CT confronts B in "Underworld" and suggest fragging B in Biblical call for "an eye for an eye." B calls CT a "crusader."
  • CT's talk with E under the stars. The anti-war sentiment of the film is most clearly expressed here. Heavily edited in film. In screenplay more detail given. CT comes closer to E's position. E confesses that he believed in war in 1965 but now believes US will lose the war. War is wrong. Tells CT that the only decent thing to come out of the war is that people like him will know how horrible war is and will oppose future wars and glorification of war. Long speech by E (words in bold cut from film):

...we been kicking other people's asses so long I guess it is time we got our own kicked. The only decent thing I can see coming out of here are the survivors - hundreds of thousands of guys like you Taylor going back to every little town in the country knowing something about what it is like to take a life and what that can do to a person's soul - twist it like Barnes and Bunny and make 'em sick inside and if you got any brains you gonna fight it the rest of your life cause it's cheap, killing is cheap, the cheapest thing I know and when some drunk like O'Neill starts glorifying it, you're gonna puke all over him and when the politicians start selling you a used war all over again, you and your generation gonna say go fuck yourself 'cause you know, you've seen it, and when you know it, deep down there...(he hits CT in the gut with his fist) ... you know it till you die... that's why the survivors remember. 'Cause the dead don't let em forget. (Screenplay, pp. 79-80).

  • The apocalyptic ending of the film with the captain ordering an airstrike on their own position. Compare alternate ending to Coppola's film "Apocalypse Now".