Friday, October 14, 2011

Fiction, to Film, to Fantastic Music Friday: The Killing Fields

I know this seems like a strange addition to this new weekly post, but I recently watched the iconic film The Killing Fields and knew I couldn't pass on a review.  A follow up novel came out as well, but is mainly based on journalism reports written for The New York Times.  This real-life story is based on the experience of a group of journalists who returned to Cambodia, and in particular on two men, Dith Pran and Sydney Schanberg.

As journalists, our main characters return to war torn Cambodia in 1973 as the Cambodian national army is in conflict with the Khmer Rouge after the spill over from the Vietnam War.  The two men are arrested when they are caught taking pictures of an execution and feared their own deaths.  All of the journalists are taken prisoner and essentially only offered a release after Dith Pran negotiates their freedom.  In the days following, the group of Americans prepare to leave Cambodia for the United States, but Dith Pran is unable to get a passport to leave the country with his American associates, and thus begins the first-hand account and gut wrenching story of genocide and murder in Cambodia.

Left behind, Dith Pran must pretend to be simple minded and docile, to prevent the Khmer Rouge's men from thinking he is an intellectual that must be added to the increasing number of Cambodians who have already been murdered.  In the hopes of returning Cambodia to an agrarian nation, with no ties to family but all to state, the Khmer Rouge put forward a campaign to eliminate the "elite" of the country and to reprogram young children and the laboring class to return their power to the nation.  Under the totalitarian regime, men and women are forced to work for hours in the hot sun, planting rice and working in the fields.  All this, done under the eye of brutal young children who have been trained up in hatred for family or natural respect for adults.

In short, Pran escapes and makes his way to the border of Thailand, where he enters a refugee camp and meets back up with his American journalist friend Sydney.  Over their time of separation, Sydney had received awards for his war reports and photographs, but had never been able to rest knowing his Cambodian friend was a prisoner of conflict.  The two meet at the camp, and the closing scene literally broke my heart.  Supposedly, even in real life, as Sydney pleads for the forgiveness of his friend, Pran simply rejoices in being reunited and tells him there is nothing to forgive.

This final scene left me a sobbing mess.  Although I've always loved this famous song by John Lennon, this scene gave it an entirely new meaning.  I had an uncle who served in Vietnam.  From what little he would share with us, I knew that it had changed him forever, and because of his experiences I took an early interest in the conflicts throughout Southeast Asia.  It's not easy to sum up all that led to these conflicts, nor how the global community responded to them.  In a strange way, the closing song and conclusion to the film hit on the terror that is genocide and the reality of its occurrence.  We know that it still happens today and it always leaves us to question what leads up to these evil events in history and how we can prevent them.

The events of the film were real and happened to the man Dith Pran.  He returned to the United States and worked for The New York Times until his death in 2008.  There are amazing tributes and pictures found on their website if you're interested:

Also, the actor who played Dith Pran in the film had also lived through the Killing Fields and was virtually plucked out of obscurity to play the role. This actor, Haing S. Nor went on to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.  His award speech is heart-warming and sincere, as well as much deserved. Although I have not read the companion novel or articles, I've since purchased other books about this event to go along with what I've learned.  In essence, it's given me a new interest in the stories of those who have survived this horrific event.  If you have not had a chance to watch this amazing film, I highly recommend you check it out.

* Fiction, to Film, to Fantastic Music Friday is my own little weekly post. The premise is just to share my favorite books made into film, with amazing soundtracks to boot.  There might even be times where it's just a great film and soundtrack, or great book and film.  Either way, join in if you would like! 


  1. I read a book about this years ago and was horrified. I haven't seen the movie; actually I don't know if I could stand it, knowing that the atrocities are true.

  2. Barbara--Yes, it was hard at times, but the overall tone really had me choked up. The back story on this was really moving. You should check out those links about the man it was really about. He was an amazing man.