Heaven and Earth: A true Image of a Vietnamese Woman – the Vietnam’s War Victim – Lapetina Ngân

Heaven and Earth: A true Image of a Vietnamese Woman – the Vietnam’s War Victim

Unlike other Vietnam War films made as seen through the eyes of American male soldiers, Heaven and Earth (1993) by Oliver Stone is built through the perspective of a Vietnamese woman. Indeed, the film, based on the memoir of Le Ly Hayslip, is the turbulent life of a Vietnamese peasant girl who suffers changes brought by the war. At the age of fourteen, Le Ly (Hiep Thi Le) was raped, became a prostitute and a single mother; and later on immigrated to America after marrying an American soldier. In America, her life seemed to be better but the turbulence grips again Le Ly. The film gives the audience a true image of a Vietnamese woman who is the war’s victim during but also after the Vietnam War. Neither good nor bad, neither white nor dark, neither heroic nor cowardly, her life is as many others on a thin border, the border drawn by those who want to survive in a conflict between forces that are beyond understanding. Forces that harm the weak and can turn against the same they swore to protect. The movie does not excuse or justify anything in her life: her choice to join the Viet Cong, her choice to become a prostitute – if one could speak about choice when someone offers a fortune to a starving teenager, her choice to marry an “invader”. It depicts her life as a war report could have done it, except reporters of both sides were under army control at that time.

            The first half of the movie, which takes place in Vietnam, shows Le Ly’s life going  from being a peasant girl who joins the Viet Cong to a young single mother during the Vietnam War. Le Ly joins to help the Communist against the American involvement and South Vietnamese government after her two brothers joined the Viet Cong. Not long after, she is captured and tortured by Southern troops. The torture scene involving honey, ants, snakes seems even more horrible than the bloodiest sequences. Despite of the brutal torture, she keeps being faithful to the Viet Cong. Unfortunately, since her mother bribed the officers in secret, nothing proves her loyalty, the villagers and the Viet Cong believe that she is now on the enemy’s side after her release from the Southern prison. Therefore, one more time Le Ly is put again in prison, but by the Viet Cong whom she fought for. Moreover, she is raped by Viet Cong soldiers, who are supposed to protect the Vietnamese people. After that, she moves to Da Nang and works for a wealthy family where she has a sexual encounter with the master of the family and gets pregnant. Le Ly, now a single mother, has to earn money through several jobs including prostitution. Through Le Ly, Oliver Stone successfully gives the audience a real face of war – there is no winner or loser, there are only innocent victims who have to suffer its worst part.

            Meeting Steve, an American Marine Sergeant and getting in an intimate relationship quickly with him, a new chapter begins in Le Ly’s life. They have together one boy and live peacefully in the “Middle Highlands” of Vietnam in a military camp. Le Ly tries to persuade her mother to move to America with them where they will be safe but her mother does not trust the Americans. Therefore, Le Ly and her two children move to America with Steve, leaving the rest of her family behind. One may think that Le Ly, after all, is lucky to get married to an American Marine Sergeant and has a better life in America. However, her husband, Steve, who is suffering from PTSD, cannot bring her a full happiness. Moreover, Le Ly wants to be financially independent so as to be able to control her life, which is not what her husband expects. She now realizes that they are too different and she argues more and more with him. The relationship ends by a divorce and Steve’s suicide. Le Ly comes back to the life of a single mom but different from what her life used to be in Vietnam. Later, when she has made a wealthier life and is able to comeback Vietnam, she visits her family and she helps her people by building several health clinics. The movie ended seeing her rejected by her own family who considers her as a traitor who has forsaken them. Rejected from her motherland and not fully an American due to her attachment to Vietnam, she remains “between Heaven and Earth.”

            Through Le Ly’s tragic fate, Oliver Stone depicts the raw reality of war with countless terrifying acts. Besides, Le Ly does not only represent for the those who are war’s victims but also her country, which is heavily affected by the war. However, Le Ly herself, her people and her country leave the traumatic past behind and stand up right to continue. Heaven and Earth is not only about her war life experience, but also about the reconciliation between Le Ly and the pain brought by the war: “Hating people who wronged me only kept me in their power. Forgiving them and thanking them for the lessons they taught me, on the other hand set me free to continue on my way” (Le Ly Hayslip).

Lapetina Ngân

M1 – Anglais


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