EN4394, Dr. Hall
In Platoon, a movie about an American military unit engaged in combat during the Vietnam War, the platoon’s Sgt. Barnes seems to be on a journey of self-destruction. Now in his second tour in Nam, he exudes a defeatist aura.
On the other hand, Sgt. Elias, a squad leader, is on a journey of survival. He aims to get himself and his men out of the country in one piece. Barnes lives from day to day, rigid in his objective, oblivious to the toll taken in platoon members’ lives.
Barnes’ character flaw, hubris, lies in not caring whether he lives or dies, or if anyone else does for that matter. “Everybody gotta die sometime, Ray. We are all going to die sometime.”
Taylor, the newest member of the platoon has already begun to question Sgt. Barnes’ heavy-handedness. He even floats the idea of someone killing Barnes. Taylor is told by a member of his platoon, “The only thing that can kill Barnes is Barnes.”
“In contrast with Marshal Potter, Barnes loses the respect of his men because he goes against convention, no matter what the consequence. Potter gains the respect of those around him by taking their safety seriously. He puts his life on the line for the protection of others. Barnes doesn’t care who gets killed; he is in the fight for the love of it. In the end, Taylor kills Barnes, deservedly so. His descent into death is a long freefall, ending with a mighty thud.
In contrasting Barnes to Henry Fleming, we at least know that Fleming had an opportunity to redeem himself, while Barnes couldn’t have bothered. Sgt. Elias, more like Marshal Potter, always wanted to do the right thing for the general welfare of his troops. The audience last sees Elias running with hundreds of enemy soldiers chasing him. They kill him. He dies with honor.