Michael Cimino elaborates on the domestic perspective of “The Deer Hunter” in the aforementioned New York Times interview:
“I really wanted to make a film about these kinds of people (middle American steelworkers in a Slovak community). Like most ordinary people, they can be quite extraordinary in the face of crises. So the war is simply a means of testing their courage and willpower. But it could just as easily have been the Civil war.”
The characters’ environment is very important to “The Deer Hunter,” and one of the ways Cimino establishes this is through the lengthy and elaborate wedding sequence that opens the film. We recognize how close everyone in the blue-collar town is as they dance, drink, flirt, shout, and laugh together. Seeing how loved and supported the main characters are in their community, and the neighborly warmth and American pride that motivate them, make the isolation and suffering they endure when returning home even more painful.
The war scenes feel more like a fairy tale than an accurate depiction of combat. Cimino purposefully ignores historical truth and depicts the Vietnam conflict with a harmful good versus evil dynamic to heighten the film’s emotional drama. Despite being in different branches of the military, the trio magically reunites in a Vietnamese village. From there, they are captured by the Viet Cong and kept in cages surrounded by rats and dead bodies. They are forced to play a game of Russian roulette with live ammunition, and their vicious enemy enjoys terrifying them.