Released in 1993, Heaven & Earth is Oliver Stone's third film about The Vietnam War, following Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July. These three films are often said to form a "trilogy", although they merely share subject matter and do not take place in a shared continuity.
This film is most notable for telling the story of the war from the Vietnamese perspective, a viewpoint which Stone had been criticized for excluding in his two previous Vietnam films. The movie is Very Loosely Based on a True Story, being adapted from the memoirs of Le Ly Hayslip, a Vietnamese peasant girl who married an American soldier and became a humanitarian in the U.S.
This work features examples of:
- All Asians Wear Conical Straw Hats: As you'd expect of a movie set in Vietnam during the war, these hats are worn by many people, including our heroine at several points.
- All Men Are Perverts: In the first half of the movie, practically every male character (whether American or Vietnamese) wants to get into Le Ly's pants, whether she wants it or not.
- Break the Cutie: The whole plot, especially in the first half of the movie
- The Cameo: The real Le Ly Hayslip appears in a bit part. She's the woman selling jewelry in one of the U.S. scenes.
- Composite Character: Steve Butler is a combination of the two American husbands Le Ly had in real life.
- Domestic Abuse: While things are nice for a while after they return to America, eventually Steve becomes unpredictably angry and violent, at one point aiming a gun at the back of Le Ly's head.
- Eagleland: Most of the American soldiers in Vietnam are very much Flavor 2. When Le Ly actually comes to the United States, it's initially portrayed as Flavor 1, but it later turns out that Flavor 2 is lurking under the surface.
- Evil vs. Evil: In regards to their cruelty in the war, the Viet Cong, the South Vietnamese government, and the Americans are Not So Different.
- Obligatory War Crime Scene: Every side gets at least one. Le Ly is inhumanly tortured by the South Vietnamese, raped by the Viet Cong, and prostituted by the Americans.
- Occupiers out of Our Country: The Americans, of course. Who are, as the film points out, merely the latest in a series of occupiers, following the Chinese, the Japanese, and the French. We actually see the end of French rule near the beginning of the film, when Le Ly is still a child.
- Rape as Drama: Le Ly is raped by the Viet Cong when they suspect her of spying for the South.
- Rule of Drama
- Semper Fi: Averted mercilessly.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: Steve Butler, eventually leading to his suicide.
- Translation Convention: When the Vietnamese characters are talking to Americans, they speak in pidgin English. When they're talking amongst themselves, presumably speaking Vietnamese in-universe, it's rendered as normal English.
- War Is Hell: Oh, yes.
- Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: The Viet Cong, of course. The people in Le Ly's village are very supportive of the V.C. and her brothers go off to fight for them. Ultimately, however, the V.C. are shown to be just as murderous and despicable as their American enemies.