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 French director Roland Joffé, 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 non-actor who went on to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. It also stars Sam Waterston and John Malkovich.

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 friend, 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?

A moving, powerful portrait of one of the darkest eras of the 20th century.

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.
  • 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.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The answer to the third paragraph is yes.
  • From Bad to Worse: The film begins with Cambodia being bombed by the American air force. It's horrible. Then the Khmer Rouge take over.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Several prisoners are summarily executed by the Khmer Rouge. The camera cuts away before a women is shot with an AK-47 at point-blank range.
  • Hannibal Lecture: Rockoff gives Sydney one at an awards ceremony, accusing him of exploiting Pran to win his award. Sydney chews him out in return.
  • Heel-Face Turn: Phat.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Syndey and Pran.
  • Holiday in Cambodia: Subverted - You did not want to be in Cambodia during this time period.
  • 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.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Sydney and Pran, of course.
  • 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.
  • Meaningful Echo: "Mercedes, number One !"
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Since the Khmer Rouge killed the educated, this was a very 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.
  • Reality Subtext: Dr. Haing S. Ngor himself survived the Killing Fields, which helped well in his Oscar-winning role.
  • The Reveal: When Pran uncovers the titular Killing Fields.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized
  • The Unfettered: Khmer Rouge, of course.
  • 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.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue
  • 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.
    • And after all his efforts to save him, Phat's son is killed.