A Cinema of Vengeance: Vietnam Veterans, Traumatic Recovery, and Historical Revisionism in 1980s Hollywood

  • Marc Diefenderfer


Since the Vietnam War, trauma as both theme and trope has become integral to the popular representation of combat veterans and, as a result, to American culture’s understanding of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, narrative portrayals of combat-induced trauma have often also been employed to more overtly political ends. The 1980s, especially, were dominated by hypermasculinist revenge fantasies—such as the Rambo and Missing in Action film trilogies—that equated the veteran’s recovery from trauma with the post-Vietnam renewal of American militarism. In such narratives, the existential crisis posed by the figure of the traumatized veteran is ultimately resolved by the vengeful repudiation and revision of objective historical truth. This thematic is particularly exemplified in the Rambo trilogy and in Tony Scott’s Top Gun, an emblematic film in which white male veteran experience is rendered normative by veterans who teach non-veterans—and, thus, the audience—about combat-induced trauma and how properly to contend with it. Essential to the messages of this cinema of vengeance are the films’ concerted dismantling of the history of the Vietnam War, one that casts these films in the role of justifying the persistence of American military expansionism throughout the world.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marc Diefenderfer
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of EnglishPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA

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