That Scene From ‘The Deer Hunter’ (1978)

“Hey, have you seen this movie? What did you think about THAT SCENE?!” We have all used that phrase at one point during our discussions of movies with the other person’s eyebrows raising, “Oh yea, THAT SCENE!” You go on to pick that memorable scene apart by listing what you loved or didn’t like, how it made you feel and the impression it left on you. 

In this series, we will do just that. We will take a scene from a movie and discuss its impact on us. Some of these scenes may be frightening, weird, iconic, controversial, hilarious and everything in between. Let us know your impression of the scene and the impact it left on you the first time you watched it down below in the comments. Enjoy!

 *Warning: May Contain Spoilers*

The Deer Hunter (1978)

Scene: Russian Roulette (Viet Cong Prison)


Director: Micahel Cimino

Characters: Micahel (Robert De Niro), Nick (Christopher Walken), a number of V.C. Guards (various)


The Deer Hunter is one of the earliest films to examine the post-traumatic stress on soldiers who survived the horrors of the Vietnam War. A group of friends from a small industrial town in Pennsylvania prepares to go off to war as one gets married (The Russian Orthodox Wedding could a ‘That Scene’ by itself), one gets engaged and one is apparently an excellent deer hunter. As soon as we get to see the group of friends in the war, they are captured by the Viet Cong. While Nick and Michael are held in a watery prison, we witness the guards forcing the POWs to play Russian Roulette. That brings us to our scene.



What an incredibly tense and nerve-racking scene. No background noise or music to drown out the slaps and yelling. The leader of the guards was legitimately slapping De Niro and Walken which added to the agitation of both actors. De Niro playing his part full of defiant rage with Walken being more like any of us would be in this situation. Trembling and scared.  De Niro’s primal yell as he pulled the trigger the first time is etched in memory and is the first thing to come to mind when the movie is brought up.

The performances are tremendous here and director Comino created such a claustrophobic and intense atmosphere with the close-ups and real-life slaps that it makes this one of the toughest scenes watch all the way through. I want to look away so many times. De Niro and Walken’s ability to be so raw combined with Comino’s camerawork helps make this one of the greatest scenes ever filmed.

There was a lot of controversy around this scene because it could not be proven that American POWs were forced to play this deadly game, but I tend to agree with Roger Ebert’s assessment saying, “Anything you can believe about the game, about its deliberately random violence, about how it touches the sanity of men forced to play it, will apply to the war as a whole.”

I don’t believe they were trying to say this actually happened but more along the lines of war is hell and that random violence could be found around every corner during Vietnam. The randomness of the draft, the randomness of where a land mine could be, the randomness of enemy soldiers around a certain corner, and the randomness of who made it back in one piece. Also, we see the emotional toll it takes just these two soldiers and how it is all symbolized by this deadly random game.

What do you think of the Russian Roulette scene? Was the controversy warranted or is this artistic license at its best?

Author: Vincent Kane

I hate things.