Column: ‘The Killing Fields:’ a great film with a great purpose

Adam Tumino

Some movies have a hard time accomplishing what they set out to do.

This is especially true of films that have a large list of things that they wish to accomplish.

In his 1984 movie “The Killing Fields,” director Roland Joffé tried to examine many things, and succeeded greatly.

The film mainly deals with war, failures in American foreign policy, the personal tolls of violence and journalistic ethics.

Most movies would be content making a statement on just one of these things, and fail miserably in trying to make a statement on them all.

This makes the success of “The Killing Fields” even more impressive.

Based on s true story, it tells the story of American journalist Sydney Schanberg, played here by Sam Waterston.

Schanberg is in Cambodia in 1975, covering the fighting between government forces and the Khmer Rouge.

He is aided by a local journalist and translator Dith Pran, played by Haing S. Ngor.

When the Khmer Rouge succeed in taking control of the country, Schanberg and Pran have an opportunity to flee. Schanberg and some other members of the press decide to stay behind, and although Pran’s family escapes, he remains behind as well.

But the men underestimated the brutality Khmer Rouge, and after Pran saves Schanberg and others from execution, they take refuge inside the French embassy.

Things seem to be going relatively well until Pran and the other Cambodians in the embassy are kicked out and handed over to the Khmer Rouge.

This is all in the first half of the film, and the rest deals with Schanberg’s guilt for endangering Pran’s life, but mostly focuses on Pran’s struggle to survive in the brutal concentration camp he is sent to.

Ngor won an Oscar for his portrayal of Pran, despite not being an actor before this movie.

In fact, Ngor’s own life story is tragically similar to that of his character.

He was a doctor in Cambodia before being sent to a camp when the Khmer Rouge seized control, eventually winding up in a refugee camp in Thailand.

He said that playing Pran was his way of telling the story of what happened in his country, a promise he made to his wife before she died in the concentration camp.

For those unaware, the Khmer Rouge killed more than 2 million people between 1975 and 1979 in one of the most devastating genocides in world history.

“The Killing Fields” tells the story well, filling it with strong emotions and dynamic characters.

The only thing better than a great movie is a great movie with a purpose.


Adam Tumino is a senior journalism major. He can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]