The Deer Hunter is a man’s movie that encapsulates and breaks down the hierarchical system of masculinity. Right off the hop we meet Nick and we can tell that he’s the pretty boy. His hair is styled, his clothes are ironed and fitted; his face is shaved and he never eats making him the thinnest of the bunch. Naturally I connected with him instantly and found myself analyzing everything he did through a gay lens, picking apart gestures and inflections; trying to prove to myself that I wasn’t simply feeding into stereotypes. Taking a step back and analyzing Nick objectively I realized that my initial thoughts weren’t necessarily wrong. Nick seems to have very little interest in women throughout the movie, however I couldn’t ignore the natural pull between Mike and Nick which felt to strong to be a Bromance.
In the beginning we see how soft and loyal a friend Nick can be. He stands by his friends even when others might not want to, he treats women with respect and has compassion for his fellow men. As the plot progresses and Nick’s morals are challenged he starts losing sight of his true colours and I believe defining moment in his downfall was the moment he realized his best friend could never be his lover.
This moment, which subtly reveals Nick’s inner thoughts and desires, is after the wedding when John starts playing the piano and Nick won’t take his eyes off of Mike. Mike takes notices and communicates to Nick with a simple raise of his chin that this was neither the time nor place for expressing emotion. I feel this was integral because for the first time Nick is realizing that he will never, despite his best efforts, be with Mike comfortably, and life seems a little less brights.
From that moment forward we see Nick regress into a war torn monster who’s past is erased by post traumatic stress, combined with heavy drug use and the constant promise of death. A man who used to starve himself for the thrill, is now starving because he doesn’t want food. A man once living for love and life itself, now only lives to die, broken by years of mistreatment. This creates an incredible sense of pathos for Nick, but especially Mike, for in their final moments together we see a break through in their relationship; genuine love. We see Mike reduced to his basest form, begging his lifeless, stone hearted lover to show some sign of life. This made me crave for Nick’s survival. Having Nick die however, kept the stakes high and frankly left me feeling a bit hopeless and disturbed, especially because of the ease with which Nick pulls his trigger. Clearly a man who has lost all zest for life. Perhaps because of recent events, or perhaps because he spent his entire life wanting something that, until the end, would never want him back.