I grew up on Star Wars. Like many of my generation that was the film which made me love cinema and helped form many of my earliest dreams. My friends and I had our heads in the stars, just above the clouds, and it felt exciting and safe. One film changed that for me.

As I grew and started to want more from my movie-going experience I found that the earthbound excursions were far more troubling than I had expected. I saw two films in the early 90s which actually scared me, they were Brian De Palma’s Casualties of War and Oliver Stone’s Platoon. Obviously I was too young to be watching them, but a bored video rental clerk was a true friend to the cine-curious back in the day and many of my friends and I fluttered every Friday night like moths to the flame. Seeing Platoon for the first time was an experience difficult to forget. Oliver Stone’s brutal and bloody depiction on the Vietnam conflict, drawn from his own time serving, was so full of fear and desperation that I couldn’t understand my reaction to it. It was a cruel cinematic awakening and for a while I was no longer curious about the rest of the world of movies.

Like Casualties of War, Platoon was a film about people, young people thrown into a terrible place, handed a gun and told to kill. Unlike the bleak satire of Robocop or the sci-fi trappings of Predator this was a human conflict and I realised that there was no escapism here. This was a lesson. My friends felt the same, and for a while we retreated to old favourites and tentatively tried out a ridiculous looking horror film but as time went on I found that they were missing something. In my mind Oliver Stone’s Platoon had shown me something I wasn’t ready for, not able to understand and yet it had, in time, come to mean something more than just another film to watch on a weekend.

Like all cinephiles there are movies which changed my perception of what was possible on screen. Platoon’s searing personal conflict gave me an insight into another time and a distant war, yet told me enough about the internal conflicts as well as the external for me to want to know more. The relationship between Charlie Sheen’s naive young soldier and the two opposing Sergeants is a powerful one and as I rewatched the film a year or so later I came to understand the psychological elements at play. The film still retained its power to shock me but I found there was a good reason for this – it was a damn good film about a truly terrible moment in history and the people who took part.

We all have moments like this as we experience more in life, cinema has that potent power to enchant, educate and entertain. The moment I realised there was more to Platoon than the gunplay and the violence was the moment I grew up a little and, thankfully, was curious once more.

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