‘Good Morning, Vietnam’ (1987) – Using Music to Tell A Story


Released in 1987 and directed by Barry Levinson, Good Morning, Vietnam is a film that is quintessentially about a portion of the Vietnam War in 1965 and in particular one man’s story about his time in Vietnam; however, the film is also a representation of the very important role music can play. Adrian Cronauer (Robin Williams) is an Airman who has been brought to Vietnam to work as a DJ on the military’s radio service and to boost morale of the troops in Saigon. His first show opens with ‘Nowhere to Run’ by Martha Reeves & the Vandellas, this early rock and roll hit represents the characterisation of Cronauer; loud, raucous and animated. This song instantly indicates the journey the audience is about embark on with Cronauer.

After being told he cannot play modern music Cronauer responds with; ‘I Get Around’ (Beach Boys), ‘The Game of Love’ (Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders) and ‘I Feel Good’ (James Brown). The songs are accompanied by Croanuer throwing the approved music (literally) aside, soldiers in the field laughing and dancing and his scowling superiors. The opening golden-oldie, the rock songs, and the war raging off-screen, Cronauer’s humorous irreverence, and the restrictive official stiffness are skilfully entwined to portray conflicting viewpoints about the Vietnam War itself.

A particular poignant moment in Good Morning, Vietnam is the use of ‘What a Wonderful World’ (Louis Armstrong). The visuals of this sequence start with beautiful scenic shots of Vietnam, transitioning into shots of napalm explosions and an assassination. The imagery of this montage show the true horrors of the Vietnam War that were hidden or covered up from the American public up till 1965 by sweet and tranquil tales that are reminiscent of Armstrong’s lyrics.

The contrast of imagery and music in this film are what help to define Good Morning, Vietnam. The images trump the music in almost every case which helps to describe and portray the true tragic reality of what happened in Vietnam at this time. The reality of this war was blinded from the public and the music represents how the general American people were feeling, with happy, upbeat music that does not encourage fear or sadness like the imagery of the film or the true events of the Vietnam War that we now know today. Ironically despite Good Morning, Vietnam putting together an excellent narrative that takes its audience on a journey through the Vietnam War and accurately depicts the reality of war in general, the film is still predominately remembered for its fun, 1960s soundtrack and comedic performance from leading man, Robin Williams.

Chris Hartmann
Chris Hartmann
One day, the mild-mannered Chris Hartmann was caught up in a freak lab experiment during a storm and was struck by a bolt of lightning, but it wasn't until he was forced to make a deal with the devil and was abducted by aliens that he turned into a Monkeys Fighting Robots writer.