Film / The Killing Fields

"The wind whispers of fear and hate. The war has killed love. And those that confess to Angkar are punished, and no one dare ask where they go. Here, only the silent survives."
Dith Pran

A 1984 British film by Roland Joffé (the French director of The Mission), The Killing Fields is based on journalist Sydney Schanberg's account of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge regime from his article, The Death and Life of Dith Pran. The role of Pran was portrayed by Dr. Haing S. Ngor, a Cambodian doctor who actually lived under the Khmer Rouge regime and escaped, and went on to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actornote . It also stars Sam Waterston (who was nominated for Best Actor at the Academy Awards) and John Malkovich. The soundtrack was composed by Mike Oldfield.

While the Khmer Rouge wages war against the Cambodian government, American journalist Sydney Schanberg meets Cambodian journalist and interpret Dith Pran. They cover the war together and become friends, until the Khmer Rouge army finally takes power over the whole Cambodia and enter in Phnom Penh. They both take refuge in French embassy, along with the remaining Westerners from Phnom Penh and thousands of scared Cambodians, before the Khmer Rouge force all male Cambodians out and others are evacuated. In America, Schanberg wins the Pulitzer for his coverage while Pran endures the ultimate nightmare of the new government's Killing Fields. Will Schanberg find Pran? Will Pran succeed in reaching out of hell?

Overall, the film is a very moving and powerful portrait of one of the darkest eras of the 20th century.

Not to be confused with Texas Killing Fields.

Provides Examples Of:

  • Bittersweet Ending: Even though Pran escapes the regime in the end, the film makes note of all the other refugees who still remain in Cambodia. And millions died before Vietnam invaded Cambodia.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The young FANK soldier Pran gives the Mercedes emblem to ("Mercedes Number 1!") later cuts Pran loose, although this time as a Khmer Rouge Guerrilla.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Although Sydney is ostensibly the protagonist, the real hero of the film is Pran.
  • Enemy Civil War: The NVA versus the Khmer Rouge.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones/ Even Evil Has Standards: Phat, the leader of the compound. He fears for the future of Cambodia under his Khmer Rouge masters, and trusts Pran with his son's safety.
  • Eviler Than Thou: Phat's men start killing peasants at random shortly after the Vietnamese bombing raids. When he tries to tell them off, he is shot dead on the spot.
  • Feeling Oppressed by Their Existence: The film depicts the Khmer Rouge's application of these principles to those of Vietnamese descent and "intellectuals," a category that included urban professionals and people who wore glasses.
  • Hollywood History: Pran's time in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge was even worse than the way it was portrayed on film. The movie leaves out the times he was tortured, and presents a rosier picture of his eventual escape, since it shows him going straight to Thailand and The Red Cross when in fact before that he was found by the Vietnamese and made a village chief before escaping again before they found out about his American ties. And while the film does show his wife and children surviving and getting out note , in Real Life Pran still lost 50 other members of his family, including his three brothers and his sister.
  • I Will Find You: Sydney devotes all his free time to finding Pran after escaping to America.
  • Made a Slave: Pran and countless other Cambodians are forced to labour in the fields for the regime.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Since the Khmer Rouge track and kill the educated, this is an important part of Dith Pran's and Dr. Haing S. Ngor's survival.
  • Papa Wolf: Pran, whose children are all in America, tries his hardest to protect Phat's son who ends up getting killed anyway.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Sydney devotes the majority of his journalism award acceptance speech to outlining just how little the American Government valued Cambodia's well-being except as a pawn against Communist expansion.
  • Scenery Gorn: The titular Killing Fields. Once Pran escapes that he goes through the jungles of Cambodia which become-
  • Scenery Porn: with Thailand filling in for Cambodia.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: Just when it seems Pran will be able to evacuate the embassy with the other journalists, his passport gets rejected. After all his efforts to save him, Phat's son is killed.