Platoon

Comprehensive Storyform

The following analysis reveals a comprehensive look at the Storyform for Platoon. Unlike most of the analysis found here—which simply lists the unique individual story appreciations—this in-depth study details the actual encoding for each structural item. This also means it has been incorporated into the Dramatica Story Expert application itself as an easily referenced contextual example.

Story Dynamics

8 of the 12 essential questions

Change
Main Character Resolve

When Chris Taylor first arrives in Vietnam, he is basically a naive, idealistic, young man who has dropped out of college to enlist in the military—he’s signed up for infantry and combat.  He’s done so with the hope of finding himself and what he’s really about, and to discover something he can be proud of:
CHRIS (V.0.): ...Course Mom and Dad didn’t want me to come, they wanted me to be just like them—respectable, hard-working, making $200 a week, a little house, a family.  They drove me crazy with their goddamn world, Grandma, you know Mom, I don’t want to be a white boy on Wall Street, I don’t want my whole life to be predetermined by them.
...I guess having always been sheltered and special, I just want to be anonymous.  Like everybody else.  Do my share for my country.  Live up to what Grandpa did in the First War and Dad the Second.
...Maybe I’ve finally found it, way down here in the mud.  Maybe from down here I can start up again,... be something I can be proud of and not have to fake it—be a fake human being.  Maybe I can see something I don’t yet see, or learn something I don’t yet know… (Stone, p.14)
However, by the end of the film, we sense that Chris doesn’t still hold to the same basic ideals as when he first arrived in Vietnam. 
The war forced Chris to experience and do things that he’s not proud of at all, like his platoon’s involvement in the My-Lai-esque pillage and destruction of a Vietnamese village, and the climatic murder of Sgt. Barnes.  Chris thought the war would mold him into the type of man he would be proud of, instead it has dehumanized him to the point where he is willing and able to commit the murder of his commanding officer in an act of revenge.  He is no longer a naive, idealistic, young boy who was looking for a great adventure to make him a man, he has come to realize, and take part of, the atrocities and numbing reality of the Vietnam War.

Stop
Main Character Growth

Chris must stop thinking that war will define him as a man.

Do-er
Main Character Approach

There are a number of examples illustrating how Chris prefers to deal with situations externally, and looks for physical solutions to his problems.  For instance: Chris drops out of college and enlists in the military to do something positive for his country; He shoots his rifle at the feet of a young, retarded man he finds hiding.  This is done as a means of releasing the tension and frustration that has built up from horrific ordeals he and his platoon have recently experienced; While his platoon pillages a small village, Chris rescues a young village girl from being raped by some of the men in his platoon; When Sgt. Elias is missing in the jungle, Chris sets out to find him until he’s stopped by Sgt. Barnes; Chris attacks Sgt. Barnes when Barnes confronts him and others about killing Sgt. Elias; In the film’s climatic battle, instead of relying on the safety of his foxhole, Chris leaves to engage the enemy in hand to hand combat; Ultimately, he ends up murdering Sgt. Barnes in an act of revenge for Elias and for himself.

Holistic
Main Character Mental Sex

Throughout the film, Chris’ ability and attempts to understand the big picture of war illustrate how he views situations from a holistic, female mental sex standpoint.  As an example, he is able to home in on who it is that is called to war, and who is excused:
KING:  How the fuck you get over here man, you look like you educated…
CHRIS:  I volunteered.
KING:  You what?  Say ‘gain.
CHRIS:  Yeah, I dropped out of college and told ‘em I wanted infantry, combat, and Nam…
He grins, finding their reactions funny.  It’s also the first time we’ve seen Chris crack a smile.
CRAWFORD:  You volunteered for this shit, man?
KING:  You a crazy fucker, givin’ up college, man.
CHRIS:  Didn’t make much sense.  Wasn’t learning anything…  (hesitate) And why should just the poor kids go to the war - and the college kids get away with it.
King and Crawford share a smile.
KING:  What we got here a crusader?
CRAWFORD:  Sounds like it. (Stone, P. 24)
Even though he didn’t see Barnes actually shoot Elias, or has any physical proof of the crime, Chris still knows Barnes murdered Elias.  Chris’ beliefs are derived from the tense, volatile relationship between Elias and Barnes, and the horrible scene where Elias runs from the jungle only to get killed by the enemy soldiers pursuing him.  This sight directly contradicts Sgt. Barnes questionable account of how he earlier found Elias dead in the jungle, prompting the following exchange of dialogue between Chris and other platoon members:
CHRIS:  He killed him.  I know he did.  I saw his eyes when he came back in…
RHAH:  (puffing on his bowl) How do you know the dinks didn’t get him.  You got no proof man.
CHRIS:  Proof’s in his eyes.  When you know you know.  You were there Rhah - I know what you were thinking.  I say we frag the fucker.  Tonight. (Stone, p. 85)
Another instance that illustrates how Chris looks at the war from an overall, holistic standpoint is in the last conversation he has with King:
CHRIS:  Y’ever get caught in a mistake, King, and you just can’t get out of it?
KING:  Way out of anything, man.  Just keep your pecker up and your powder dry, things change.  How many days you short?
CHRIS:  Not just me… it’s the way the whole thing works.  People like Elias get wasted and people like Barnes just go on making up rules any way they want and what do we do, we just sit around in the middle and suck on it!  We just don’t add up to a rat’s ass.
KING:  Whoever said we did, babe.  Make it outta here, it’s all gravy, every day of the rest of your life - gravy…(Stone, p. 95)

Decision
Story Driver

Chris Taylor decides to drop out of college and enlist in the military for active duty in Vietnam; Sgt. Barnes decides to send Sgt. Elias’ squad out for an all night ambush resulting in Gardner’s death and Chris’ injuries.  These two soldiers were new to the platoon and lacked the experience they needed and might have gained if Barnes hadn’t decided to send them out so soon; It’s decided that the platoon should move further on to a nearby village suspected of Viet Cong activity.  The platoon commits war crimes against the village as a means of releasing frustration for the deaths of the members in their platoon.  Elias’ decision to report Barnes’ criminal conduct at the village precipitates a rift between the members in the platoon (some siding with Barnes and others siding with Elias), and ultimately causes Barnes to kill Elias.  Sgt. Barnes’ decision to kill Elias and later, his decision to try and kill Chris, provokes Chris to kill him.

Optionlock
Story Limit

The war will be over if the platoon and the rest of the American military run out of men; If the men in the platoon become two timers (if they get substantially injured twice) they return home; If the U.S. Military achieves their objective of winning the war, then the war will be over and the goal will have been met.  The enormous loss of lives sustained in the last battle clearly indicates the U.S. military’s failure in making progress in the Vietnam War.

Failure
Story Outcome

From the very first scene of the film, as black rubber body bags are loaded onto planes that have just unloaded new recruits, America’s success in the war is put into question.  Throughout the film, we experience the platoon’s frustrations, anxieties, and fears of fighting an invisible enemy that the platoon seems to have little to no impact against.  And we are finally left with not only the platoon, but almost the entire 25th infantry, overrun by the enemy sustaining enormous loss of lives.  In the final scene the dead aren’t even in body bags.  The surrounding jungle floor and the entire military compound are strewn with the bodies of American and Viet Cong soldiers, and the Americans have obviously gotten the worst of it.  This is definitely a war America is not winning.

Bad
Story Judgment

Chris’ experiences in the war do not lead him to find something to be proud of, instead, he has become a cold-blooded murderer, and kills his nemesis, Sgt. Barnes in merciless revenge.  The physical and, especially, emotional wounds he has sustained in Vietnam will forever serve to remind him of the shameful dehumanization he endured in the war.

Overall Story Throughline

""War is Hell""

Universe
Overall Story Throughline

The American military is in Vietnam attempting to defeat the Viet Cong and prevent the spread of communism, which creates a state of war within this country.

Progress
Overall Story Concern

All the characters are concerned with how the war is progressing, and what type of impact the U.S. military is having in Vietnam.  Throughout the film there are indicators that the U.S. troops are not progressing towards victory—visually expressed in the loss of lives and in the mounting frustration and stress within the platoon.  Fresh off the plane, new U.S. recruits are greeted by body bags slung onto another plane going home; the platoon takes out its frustrations on a defenseless village; a civil war breaks out between members within the platoon.  It seems every time the platoon comes into contact with the enemy, they lose lives—not uncommon in war, but there doesn’t appear to be any clear victories to counteract the losses.  Tension is derived from the sense that everything the platoon attempts to do appears ineffective against the elusive and ever encroaching enemy.  By the end of the film, the platoon and several other military companies are completely overrun at their base by the enemy.

Fact
Overall Story Issue

The story focuses on the reality of the Vietnam War—how the soldiers have to actually live and operate day to day, and the type of responsibilities necessary to keep the platoon functioning.  Another important point relating to the range is the fact that the U.S. military is continually losing soldiers to the Viet Cong, and unable to successfully counteract the Viet Cong’s strategies.

Fantasy
Overall Story Counterpoint

Despite all the signs that they are losing the war, the platoon, as well as the American military, are operating under the delusion they are in some way actually gaining control of the war and have a chance to win.

Overall Story Thematic Conflict
Fact vs.Fantasy

Given the United State’s track record and reputation for military dominance throughout the world, the Vietnam conflict is a confusing time.  For far too long, they engage in a losing war, deluding themselves that victory is certain.

Unproven
Overall Story Problem

There are many examples of how unproven is the problem in the objective story.  This is a failure story because the Viet Cong ultimately prove themselves more effective in the war than the US military.  The lives of the infantry men who haven’t proven themselves aren’t valued as much as the lives of the men who’ve been in Vietnam longer.  The young Lieutenant Wolfe, who has not proven himself in war yet, illustrates unproven as the problem in several situations.  The others in the platoon view the experienced Sgt. Barnes as the leading commander in the platoon instead of the inexperienced Lt. Wolfe; he doesn’t do anything when Barnes and others in the platoon commit war crimes against the Vietnamese villagers; he also doesn’t realize that the platoon is about to be caught in a crossfire trap by the Viet Cong.  Only when Elias brings this fact to his attention does the Lt. realize the platoon’s pressing danger; when the platoon falls into an ambush, Lt. Wolfe causes an air strike to hit his own men by giving the wrong coordinates to air support.  Unproven is also illustrated in the conflict between Elias and Barnes that arises over the crimes that Barnes commits in the village.  Elias threatens to take the unproven matter to the proper authorities, but he never has the chance because Barnes kills him.  Later, Chris tries to convince Rhah, King, and others in the “head” that Barnes killed Elias.  Even though they believe him, they argue that Chris has no proof of Sgt. Barnes’ betrayal.

Proven
Overall Story Solution

If the U.S. military would have proven to be a more effective adversary in the jungle style warfare waged against the Viet Cong, the U.S. would have probably won the war; If Lt. Wolfe had been a proven combat soldier, many situations the platoon faced wouldn’t have resulted with such ill consequences; If Sgt. Elias would have been able to prove that Sgt. Barnes committed war crimes, Sgt. Barnes would have been court-martialled, the civil war in the platoon would have subsided, and Barnes wouldn’t have been able to ultimately kill Elias.

Non-Accurate
Overall Story Symptom

Insufficiency, inadequacy, deficient to the purpose are ways to look at the term non-accurate.  Elias warns Barnes that he shouldn’t send the new men in the platoon out on an all night ambush because they would most likely engage the enemy, and their inexperience would make them inadequate for the patrol.  Sgt. Barnes and Sgt. Elias each feel the methods the other embraces to fight this war are non-accurate:
BARNES:  Elias is like them politicians in Washington.  Wants to fight this war with one hand tied ‘round their balls.  Ain’t no time or need for a courtroom out here…(Stone, p. 60)
When the platoon does see action on the all night ambush, Chris and Gardner are obviously insufficiently prepared for combat, which results in Gardner being killed, Tex losing his arm, and Chris getting shot.  This supports Sgt. Elias’ argument to Sgt. Barnes that Chris and Gardner were not ready for the all night ambush patrol.  Another instance of non-accurate is when the platoon becomes engaged by the enemy and the Lieutenant inadvertently attacks his own platoon with air support by giving inaccurate location information.

Accurate
Overall Story Response

Members of the platoon feel that if they become more accurate in their efforts in the war, their fortunes will turn and they will win the war.  For example, if Lt. Wolfe had given the right coordinates for the air strike, it would have besieged the enemy instead of his own men; Many in the platoon feel that adequate leadership and support would instill the stamina and tolerance necessary to ultimately defeat the elusive Viet Cong.

Fantasy
Overall Story Catalyst

An illustration of how delusion acts as the catalyst in the objective story is when Bunny paints a fantasy about an old woman and her crippled son being the leaders of the village and agents for the Viet Cong army.  After doing so, he commences to beat and kill the innocent civilians.

Value
Overall Story Inhibitor

The fact that the men in the platoon, as well as the enemy’s lives, are not given much value, slows the progress of the objective story.

Past
Overall Story Benchmark

Events that have already happened are used as a yardstick to measure the progress toward the goal.  Based on America’s record in wars of the past, American forces engage in Vietnam confident they will be able to take control of the country; As soon as the new recruits land in Vietnam, they are exposed to the numerous body bags containing the remains of soldiers that have been killed, signifying the extent to which the American forces are struggling; Reports of other platoons and military forces that have already been overrun and destroyed by the Viet Cong reinforce the problems the U.S. is facing in trying to win the war; When the platoon is set up in a crossfire ambush, Elias explains he has experienced this tactic before in the past and knows what the enemy is trying to do, and that he also knows how to counteract this ambush.  Elias tells Chris he thinks the U.S. is going to lose the war:
CHRIS:  And you, do you believe?
ELIAS:  In ‘65 - yeah.  Now… (pause) No.  What happened today’s just the beginning.  We’re gonna lose this war…
CHRIS:  (surprised) You really think so… us?
Elias’ eyes seem to go to some inner place, his passion surging.
ELIAS:  ...we been kicking other people’s asses so long I guess it’s time we got our own kicked.  (Stone, p. 65)

Additional Overall Story Information →
Overall Story Throughline Synopsis

“In ‘Platoon,’ Writer-director Oliver Stone drops us as he drops his autobiographical 19-year-old, Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen), into life with the 25th Infantry in Vietnam.  It’s a war where there seems to be no master plan, no big picture and no advances.  There is only terror, bone-deep exhaustion, nighttime patrols and the humid jungle, crawling with snakes, insects and the silent Viet Cong.” (Los Angeles Times, 12/19/86, Calendar/p. 1, Sheila Benson)

Overall Story Backstory

“In the game of Cold War politics, Vietnam became a pawn.  Truman wanted French support against Russia.  France wanted Vietnam.  Truman willingly agreed to aid France’s ambitions in exchange for France’s support.  The success of Mao Tse-tung’s communist revolution in China strengthened America’s support of the French in Vietnam.  Obsessed with the idea of an international communist conspiracy, Truman and his advisors contended that Stalin, Mao, and Ho were united by the single ambition of world domination.” (Martin, Roberts, Mintz, McMurry, and Jones, p. 922)  By the late 1940’s and throughout the 1950’s, America was financing a major portion of France’s war in Vietnam.  By the early 1960’s, after increasing military involvement, America found itself stepping in for the exhausted French and Southern Vietnamese governments, and leading the campaign against the lethal Viet Cong, the North Vietnamese communist regime.

Main Character Throughline

Chris Taylor — Infantry Soldier

Physics
Main Character Throughline

Chris Taylor is struggling to survive the physical and mental hell of being a U.S. infantry soldier in the Vietnam War.

Doing
Main Character Concern

Chris drops out of college, enlists in the military, and asks for combat duty in Vietnam.  He wants to do for his country what his father did in World War II, and what his grandfather did in World War I.  His endeavor is brought about by his concern for making sure the rich and privileged, like himself, do for the country what the poor and underprivileged are always forced to do.

Wisdom
Main Character Issue

Chris is thematically focused on understanding how to apply what he knows.  This is what has brought him to Vietnam.  He knows that coming from a wealthy, privileged, protected background had prevented him from being drafted, and that only the poor, ethnic, and lower class citizens are forced to fight for the United States.  His wisdom in understanding the unfair pattern established by society and the government to favor him, while subjecting the less fortunate to the lion’s share of military duty bothers Chris and provokes him to enlist in the service.  Throughout the film, we see how Chris is thematically focused on the events he experiences and sees, and is able to pull out the really relevant and meaningful parts which gives him wisdom beyond his years.  He’s able to make observations that other people miss.  Much of this is illustrated in his letters to his grandmother.  While many of the others soldiers write basic notes of affection to their girlfriends and family members, Chris writes very articulate, meaningful letters to his grandmother.  His letters are composed of very introspective reflections of the events he is experiencing in the war.  Understanding the volatile relationship between Sgt. Barnes and Sgt. Elias leads Chris to conclude that Sgt. Barnes murdered Sgt. Elias.  This bit of wisdom is the source of extreme tension between Chris and Barnes.

Enlightenment
Main Character Counterpoint

Chris eventually transcends the wisdom that brought him to Vietnam and he becomes enlightened by his experiences in the war.  He eventually gains an insight to the overall scheme of the war and where he fits in its plan, and he doesn’t like the design at all:
CHRIS:  Y’ever get caught in a mistake King and you just can’t get out of it?
KING:  Way out of anything, man.  Just keep your pecker up and your powder dry, things change.  How many days you short?
CHRIS:  Not just me… it’s the way the whole thing works.  People like Elias get wasted and people like Barnes just go on making up rules any way they want and what do we do, we just sit around in the middle and suck on it!  We just don’t add up to a rat’s ass. (Stone, p. 95)
By the end of the film, Chris also becomes profoundly aware that war is not the type of endeavor that will give him a sense of pride.

Main Character Thematic Conflict
Wisdom vs.Enlightenment

Chris’ enlightenment about the horrible, desensitizing, dehumanizing nature of war weighs heavily against the wisdom he has about the society that compelled him to volunteer for military service.

Unproven
Main Character Problem

Chris is driven to prove himself as a valuable member of the military, and therefore of society:
“Idealistic, patriotic, eager for adventure, Chris Taylor is the kind of earnest middle-class rebel who scandalizes his parents by believing in flag and country in a literal way.  He volunteers for the war because he wants to experience his own life, not just observe it like other middle-class college boys” (Denby 86).

Proven
Main Character Solution

Chris proves to himself he can soldier as well as any man; what he doesn’t bargain on is the experience of killing in cold blood.

Hunch
Main Character Symptom

Chris focuses on his intuition that enlisting in the Vietnam War will provide him with what he needs to feel he is a “real” man.

Theory
Main Character Response

Chris takes his hunches and transforms them into theories—he tries to take his emotional feelings and sensations and apply logic to them.  One of his hunches is responsible for bringing him to Vietnam, where he develops a theory about finding what he can be proud of:
...‘Course Mom and Dad didn’t want me to come, they wanted me to be just like them - respectable, hard-working, making $200 a week, a little house, a family.  They drove me crazy with their goddamn world, Grandma, you know Mom, I don’t want to be a white boy on Wall Street, I don’t want my whole life to be predetermined by them.
...I guess having always been sheltered and special, I just want to be anonymous.  Like everybody else.  Do my share for my country.  Live up to what Grandpa did in the First War and Dad the Second.
...Maybe I’ve finally found it, way down here in the mud.  Maybe from down here I can start up again,... be something I can be proud of and not have to fake it—be a fake human being.  Maybe I can see something I don’t yet see, or learn something I don’t yet know… (Stone, p.14)
Chris has a strong hunch that Barnes killed Elias which develops into a theory.  He uses this theory to try to convince others in the platoon that Sgt. Barnes killed Sgt. Elias based on the notion that he can see the proof in Sgt. Barnes’ eyes:
CHRIS:  He killed him.  I know he did.  I saw his eyes when he came back in…
RHAH:  (puffing on his bowl) How do you know the dinks didn’t get him.  You got no proof man.
CHRIS:  Proof’s in his eyes.  When you know you know.  You were there Rhah - I know what you were thinking.  I say we frag the fucker.  Tonight. (Stone, p.85)

Enlightenment
Main Character Unique Ability

The platoon’s immoral behavior, and the dehumanizing treatment of the villagers supports Elias’ notion that the U.S. is going to lose the war.  When Chris reflects upon the village and the murder of Elias, he is able to gain the same enlightenment, yet his killing of Barnes in cold blood detracts from any progress he’s made toward self-fulfillment.

Knowledge
Main Character Critical Flaw

Chris presumes Barnes killed Elias as if it were a fact.  But in actuality, he doesn’t know for sure that Sgt. Barnes killed Elias, it’s just a feeling that Chris has about him.  Chris loses credibility with the other men because he’s treating the incident as a fact when it really isn’t certain.

Understanding
Main Character Benchmark

The more Chris understands the realities of warfare, the more he understands it has little to do with the patriotism that compelled him to enlist.

Additional Main Character Information →
Main Character Description

A nineteen-year-old college drop-out who has volunteered for military service and signed up for combat in Vietnam.  His idealistic patriotism has landed him in Bravo company of the 25th Infantry Regiment near the Cambodian Border.

Main Character Throughline Synopsis

Chris Taylor has rebelled against his wealthy, privileged upbringing and come to Vietnam on a quest for self-discovery.  For him, the war represents a place where he can find something to be proud of, and where he can do his share for his country like everyone else.  He invests in the questionable notion that the war will instill within him a great sense of pride.  Immediately upon arriving “in country,” Chris realizes the stark reality of war in Vietnam is quite contrary to his beliefs.  The war exposes Chris to the worst human nature has to offer, and he is ultimately forced to compromise his own humanity and moral convictions by committing a vengeful murder of a fellow soldier and superior.

Main Character Backstory

“Idealistic, patriotic, eager for adventure, Chris Taylor is the kind of earnest middle-class rebel who scandalizes his parents by believing in flag and country in a literal way.  He volunteers for the war because he wants to experience his own life, not just observe it like other middle-class college boys.  For him, an authentic life means stepping down in class; he embraces the same experience as the working-class blacks and white ethnics who got drafted—common clay, most of them, forgotten men, losers.” (Denby 86)

Influence Character Throughline

Sgt. Barnes — Platoon's First Sergeant

Psychology
Influence Character Throughline

Sergeant Barnes’ life revolves around performing a certain way while “in country”—fighting the deadly Viet Cong.  His mythic persona, superiority in rank, experience, and hard-line leadership commands respect and influences the platoon to follow his example and orders.

Being
Influence Character Concern

The primary objective Barnes is concerned with is being a role model for his troops.  Barnes as a role model and leader makes a significant impact on the men in the platoon, including Chris.  They seek direction and guidance for the way they need to function in order to stay alive in Vietnam.  Barnes leads his troops by taking on and acting the tough, hard, insensitive persona he feels is necessary to get his men to respond to him, and to the activities of war in a way that will allow them to actually win.  This can be seen early in the film after the platoon engages the enemy on an all night ambush where a new recruit, Gardner, ends up getting killed.  Barnes points out how Gardner didn’t act the way he should have, and if the rest of the platoon wants to make it through the war, they had better not act like Gardner.  He also tells a soldier who’s screaming when he gets his arm blown off in the ambush to be quiet and, “Take the pain!”—in other words, act indifferent to the pain, so the enemy will not hear him and lock in on the platoon’s location.

Knowledge
Influence Character Issue

Barnes feels war and death are his exclusive expertise because of his first hand experiences:
BARNES:  (soft) Talking ‘bout killing?
He totters slightly as he circles the outer edge of the hutch.  No on talks.
BARNES:  Y’all experts?  Y’all know about killing?
He takes the bowl from Adams, smokes it.
BARNES:  You pussies gotta smoke this shit so’s you can hide from reality…  (smokes again) Me, I don’t need this shit.  I am reality.
Confronting Chris, he moves on, taunting them all.
BARNES:  There’s the way it oughta be and there’s the way it is.  ‘Lias, he was full of shit, ‘Lias was a crusader - I got no fight with a man does what he’s told, but when he don’t, the machine breaks down, and when the machine breaks down, we break down… and I ain’t gonna allow that.  From none of you.  Not one…(Stone, p. 88)

Thought
Influence Character Counterpoint

Sgt. Barnes is the antithesis of Hamlet.  He relies on his knowledge of war to react and perform quickly.  He’s not one to sit around and consider, contemplate, or ponder situations.
BARNES:  Elias’ is like them politicians in Washington.  Want to fight this war with one hand tied ‘round their balls.  Ain’t no time or need for a courtroom out here…(Stone, p. 60)

Influence Character Thematic Conflict
Knowledge vs.Thought

Sgt. Barnes’ extensive experience and knowledge of war gives him a false sense of security that causes him to disregard giving much thought to his decisions and actions.  This is illustrated time and again throughout the film.  For example:  Barnes doesn’t seem to give much thought to sending the new, inexperienced recruits, Chris and Gardner, out on a dangerous all night ambush mission shortly after they arrive to the platoon.  There is no hesitation or contemplation when Barnes enters the village and begins interrogating and killing civilians; we don’t see him ponder much about killing Elias or attacking Chris.

Cause
Influence Character Problem

Cause drives Sgt. Barnes.  Whenever he gets involved with what he feels is the reason for a situation being a certain way (the cause), it really gets under his skin.  This is why he is so bothered by Elias.  Elias has his own take on particular causes the platoon faces.  Since these two view the war differently, their view of certain causes is a source of tension for them.  When Barnes is faced with an accusation, or when he can directly accuse someone else for being the cause of a problem, he really gets upset and motivated.  An example is the scene where Lieutenant Wolfe calls in the wrong coordinates and mistakenly attacks his own platoon with air support.  When Barnes realizes the Lt. is the cause of this problem, Barnes denounces him.

Effect
Influence Character Solution

Effect will end the source of Sgt. Barnes’ drive and motivation.  By reprimanding the platoon on the all night ambush, Barnes feels he will be able to get his men to perform better on their missions; By denouncing and challenging Lt. Wolfe’s authority, Barnes will secure more control over the platoon; The effect of killing Elias will prevent Barnes from having to deal with any “crusaders” in his platoon.

Non-Accurate
Influence Character Symptom

Barnes focuses on other’s inadequacies, and this in particular makes problems for Chris.

Accurate
Influence Character Response

Barnes approaches what he sees as the problem of inadequacies, by taking the direction of letting everyone know what is acceptable.  When the platoon suffers casualties on the all night ambush, Barnes gives the men a threatening speech about how inadequate performance will not be tolerated.  Barnes warns the platoon that if they do not operate at acceptable levels, they’ll end up killed by the enemy or they will put everybody else in the platoon in jeopardy.  Another example is when he explains to the men in the “head” that he killed Elias because he couldn’t and wouldn’t tolerate a man that doesn’t follow orders, he is warning them to follow orders or they will suffer the same fate as Elias did.

Thought
Influence Character Unique Ability

Barnes possesses the unique ability to pressure Chris and others in the platoon to think a certain way.  In the speech he gives the “head,” he’s basically telling the men to think his way; be part of the machine—“Cause when the machine breaks down, we break down,” an occurrence he’s not going to allow.

Wisdom
Influence Character Critical Flaw

“Death…  What do y’all know ‘bout death?” is what Barnes asks Chris and the others of the “head” when he confronts them about Elias.  What Barnes is really saying to the men is “You don’t know about death.  Only I know about death.”  Whenever Sgt. Barnes comes across as the old wise one, it really doesn’t play well.  If there’s one thing these men know, it’s that anyone can die at any time, and death has no loyalties.  Barnes seems to think he owns an exclusive insight to death.  This often undermines his own credibility when he tries to impose his wisdom on others.

Conceptualizing
Influence Character Benchmark

How close his troops conform to Barnes conception of soldiers, is how he measures his concern of being a role model.

More Influence Character Information →
Influence Character Description

“The scar-faced Barnes is a brave and utterly ruthless killing machine.  He’s escaped death so many times he seems to have passed beyond humanity.” (NEWSWEEK, 1/5/87, p. 57, David Ansen with Peter McAlevey)

Influence Character Throughline Synopsis

Sgt. Barnes is the first platoon sergeant.  He is a stern, fierce leader with practices that make others question his morality.  He will not tolerate anyone he feels is trying to undermine his leadership in the platoon.  When Sgt. Elias questions Barnes’ code of ethics, Barnes labels Elias as a detrimental crusader in the platoon and ultimately murders him.  After Elias’ death, Sgt. Barnes’ grievances focus on Chris Taylor who supports and follows Elias’ ideals eventually leading to their lethal confrontation.

Influence Character Backstory

Sgt. Barnes is a callous soldier, hardened from several tours of duty in “the Nam.”  Horrible scars carved into his face physically suggest the experiences he has seen.  His cold, insensitive manner confirms what the scars suggest.  The events of his past have dehumanized this man into a remorseless, immoral killing machine.

Relationship Story Throughline

""Grand Delusions, Shattered Illusions""

Mind
Relationship Story Throughline

The realm of conflict between Chris and Sergeant Barnes is in their fixed attitudes.  Chris and Sgt. Barnes have different ideas on what the war represents.  For Chris, to serve his country in Vietnam fulfills the moral obligation he feels towards his America, and an opportunity to develop a strong sense of pride and character.  Whereas, for Sgt. Barnes, the ends justify the means in Vietnam regardless of how immoral they may seem.  He’s definitely obligated to his country, but there’s nothing moral about his obligation.

Preconscious
Relationship Story Concern

Sgt. Barnes demands that no one in the platoon, including Chris, is to fall asleep on his shift. 
BARNES:  Y’all take a good look at this lump of shit!  Remember what it looks like.  You fuck up in a fire fight and I goddamn guarantee you a trip out of the bush, in a body bag!  Out here assholes, ya keep your shit wired tight at all times!  (to Chris) And that goes for you, shit for brains.  You don’t sleep on no fucking ambush!  And the next son of a bitch I catch coppin’ “Z” in the bush, I’m personally going to take an interest in seein’ suffer.  I shit you not!  (to Doc) Doc, tag’em and bag’em. (Stone p. 21)
Barnes becomes irritated with Chris when Chris throws up and faints after he discovers the rotting corpse of a Viet Cong soldier:
BARNES:  What you waiting for?  He ain’t gonna bite you.  That’s a good Gook, good and dead.
...coming up on Chris, who is soaked now from head to foot in sweat, dizzy, feeling sick, about to vomit:
BARNES:  What the hell’s matter with you Taylor!  You are one simple son-of-a-bitch!  Get that other “cherry” up here, Gardner! (Stone, p. 3)
After Elias’ death, Barnes confronts Chris and the others in the “head’s” hutch about Elias, and Barnes is able to provoke Chris to attack him.  When Chris awakes after the final battle scene in which Sgt. Barnes attempts to kill him, he finds Barnes crawling on the jungle floor.  Barnes realizes that Chris is standing behind him with a rifle pointed at him.  Barnes says, “Do it!” and without thinking, Chris shoots and kills Sgt. Barnes.

Value
Relationship Story Issue

Chris respects and values the humanity of the Vietnamese civilians.  He honors and respects Sgt. Elias enough to attack Sgt. Barnes in the hut at base camp for killing him.  Sgt. Barnes holds no value for civilian life in Vietnam and almost seems to value Sgt. Elias less.

Worth
Relationship Story Counterpoint

When Chris and the others in the “head” initially decline to accept Sgt. Barnes’ challenge to kill him to avenge Elias’ murder, Barnes feels the men are weak and don’t have the heart to stand up for their beliefs.  When Barnes condemns the men by saying, “I shit on all of you!” he is basically telling Chris and the others they are worthless.  This provokes Chris to attack Barnes, signifying that Chris does stand for something, and he honors the beliefs and ideals that Elias stood for.

Relationship Story Thematic Conflict
Value vs.Worth

The value of human life and what it is worth is the thematic conflict waged between Chris and Sgt. Barnes.  While Chris finds great value in the lives of his platoon members, as well as in the Vietnamese civilians, Barnes does not.  He’s willing to kill civilians, and even his own men, to support his immoral beliefs.  Sgt. Barnes feels whatever strides he can make against the enemy are worth operating outside the moral codes of war.

Unproven
Relationship Story Problem

Sgt. Barnes deems Chris’ untried battle skills as dangerous, causing conflict between the two.  Chris believes Barnes to be dangerous to his own men, and is frustrated at his inability to prove Barnes’ immorality.

Proven
Relationship Story Solution

For Barnes, conflict will decrease between the two as soon as Chris can prove himself to be more like a soldier willing to set his morals aside while fighting in Vietnam.  Chris accomplishes this when he blows Barnes away.  He does not, however, prove Barnes’ crimes in a way that would allow justice to triumph, which lends to his failure to resolve his personal angst.

Cause
Relationship Story Symptom

Both the main character and the obstacle character see each other as the cause of the problems they are experiencing in their relationship.  Barnes’ blatant disregard for ethics of war and his dysfunctional code of morals are like a nagging toothache on Chris’ psyche:
CHRIS:  Y’ever get caught in a mistake King and you just can’t get out of it?
KING:  Way out of anything, man.  Just keep your pecker up and your powder dry, things change.  How many days you short?
CHRIS:  Not just me… it’s the way the whole thing works.  People like Elias get wasted and people like Barnes just go on making up rules any way they want and what do we do, we just sit around in the middle and suck on it!  We just don’t add up to a rat’s ass. (Stone, p. 95)
Barnes views Chris the same way he views Elias, an agent out to challenge his way of war, a crusader causing dissension among the men, undermining Barnes’ efforts, and placing the platoon in jeopardy.

Effect
Relationship Story Response

When Chris is falsely accused of falling asleep on his watch, Barnes uses the death of a platoon member to point out the effect of this action.  Chris views the division in the platoon as a direct result of Barnes’ lack of respect for human life and unscrupulous morals:
CHRIS(V.O.):  Day by day, I struggle to maintain not only my strength, but my sanity.  It’s all a blur.  I have no energy to write.  I don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong anymore.  The morale in the men is low - a civil war in the platoon, half the men with Elias, half with Barnes.  There’s a lot of suspicion and hate.  I can’t believe we are fighting each other when we should be fighting them.  Counting days and the six inches in front of my face, not much else.  Hope things are well Grandma, tell Mom and Dad, I… well just tell them, Chris. (Film)

Worth
Relationship Story Catalyst

Worth accelerates the conflict between Chris Taylor and Sgt. Barnes.  There are many times when Barnes views Taylor as a hindrance and liability to the platoon, and he ultimately tries to kill him.  For example: when Chris throws up and can’t physically handle himself the first time he sees a rotting corpse of an enemy soldier in the jungle; When Chris allegedly falls asleep on his watch, allowing the enemy to walk right up on the sleeping platoon; When Barnes realizes Chris knows he lied about Elias being dead; When Barnes overhears Chris trying to convince the others that Barnes killed Elias, and in one of the final battle scenes where the tension between Barnes and Chris comes to a head and Barnes tries to kill Chris during the commotion of hand to hand combat with the Viet Cong.  Conversely, there are several times when the actions and beliefs Barnes embraces provokes Chris to evaluate Barnes’ worth to the platoon and acts as a catalyst in the tension between the two.  For instance, Chris is appalled when Barnes shoots a village woman in the head and then threatens to shoot a young village girl unless the villagers give him the information he wants; Chris tries to convince some of the other men that Barnes killed Elias, and that they need to kill Barnes who is becoming an evil, immoral, out-of-control liability to the platoon.  By the end of the film, Chris’ moral integrity has deteriorated to the point where he is able to kill Sgt. Barnes, who he sees as a worthless human being.

Fact
Relationship Story Inhibitor

The fact of Barnes’ authority inhibits the relationship between himself and Chris.  Barnes declares that he will go back to find Elias.  Chris wants to go with Barnes to help find Elias, but Barnes threatens to write Chris up on a citation if he doesn’t obey orders and return to the helicopter.  Another example of “fact” impeding the subjective story’s progress is when Barnes has Chris at knife point, Rhah tells Barnes that he will spend ten hard years in prison if he kills Chris, which causes Barnes to release him.  Barnes also points out to Chris and the other men the pertinent facts of the way he runs the platoon:
BARNES:  There’s the way it oughta be and there’s the way it is.  ‘Lias, he was full of shit, ‘Lias was a crusader - I got no fight with a man does what he’s told, but when he don’t, the machine breaks down, and when the machine breaks down, we break down… and I ain’t gonna allow that.  From none of you.  Not one…(Stone, p. 88)

Memory
Relationship Story Benchmark

Recollections are the standard by which growth is measured in the subjective story.  There is a scene in the “head” hutch where Rhah points out to Chris how much Chris respected Barnes when he first arrived:
RHAH:  I remember you first came in here Taylor.  You telling me how much you admired that bastard.
CHRIS:  I was wrong.
RHAH:  Wrong?  You ain’t ever been right - ‘bout nothing.  And dig this you assholes and dig it good!  Barnes been shot 7 times and he ain’t dead, that tell you something?  Barnes ain’t meant to die.  Only thing can get Barnes… is Barnes! (Stone, p. 87)
Barnes challenges Chris to, “Do it!”—to shoot him while Chris has a rifle trained on him and his finger on the trigger.  Chris’ memory of Barnes’ evil deeds and the memory of Elias and what he stood for, enable him to finally shoot Barnes.

Additional Relationship Story Information →
Relationship Story Throughline Synopsis

Chris Taylor’s strong sense of moral obligation and lack of self fulfillment has brought him to the Vietnam War.  He is on a quest to find something of which to be proud.  Ironically, it is the impact of Sgt. Barnes’ immorality that brings about the deterioration of Chris’ own psyche.  Instead of finding something to be proud of, Chris leaves Vietnam having become dehumanized and morally corrupt.

Relationship Story Backstory

Chris Taylor is from a wealthy and privileged background.  He is a naive and overly idealistic infantry enlistee that has dropped out of school and joined the war in order to gain a sense of pride about himself; to do his share for the U.S., and to become “anonymous” like the rest of the men in his platoon.  Sergeant Barnes is the first sergeant in Chris’ platoon.  He’s seen a lot of action in his day and has already served several tours in Vietnam.  His extensive exposure to combat has caused him to develop warped ideals to support his cold, callous, and immoral behavior.

Additional Story Points

Key Structural Appreciations

Progress
Overall Story Goal

The goal is for the U.S. military to make progress in the war—which they don’t.

Preconscious
Overall Story Consequence

The consequence of not making progress in the war is the men will have to keep fighting, subjected to the inhumane preconscious responses they have developed in order to stay alive.  The men’s essential natures are not suitable for war and it takes its toll, best seen in post-traumatic stress.

Being
Overall Story Cost

The cost of “being” relates to the men in the platoon losing their identities and having to behave in a certain way.  They have to be like Barnes or be like Elias or be loners, but there are definitely many aspects of their lives they have to give up and a way they must be in order to survive in the war.

Doing
Overall Story Dividend

Performing a patriotic service for your country, the chance to take rage and frustration out on the enemy that has caused it, doing drugs—these are types of dividends the men can reap in the platoon.

Past
Overall Story Requirements

One needs to learn from the past to do well in war.  Elias, who has learned from experience, knows what to do when his platoon is about to be set up in an ambush.  Conversely, Lt. Wolfe, who doesn’t have past experience in the war has nothing from which to draw on in situations where it is a necessity. 
Elias runs up to him.  Gunfire all around, incoming and outgoing, makes them yell to each other.
ELIAS:  Lieutenant, lemme take some men out on the right flank, there’s spiderholes back there…
Grabbing a loose stick, crudely drawing out their position in the dirt and tracing it out for the Lieutenant.
ELIAS:  First Platoon’s gonna be coming up here to reinforce us… a couple of dinks get in here behind us, they’ll get us in a crossfire with the First, we’ll shoot each other to shit.
WOLFE:  (a hesitant gesture, to Ace on the radio) Get me Barnes…(to Elias) Sounds pretty far-out to me ‘Lias.
ELIAS:  Sir, I saw it happen in ‘66 at Ia Drang.  First Cavalry… (Stone, p. 72)
A requirement of the Past also applies to the “cherries,” or newly arriving infantry men who must deal with the unfortunate circumstance of having no past combat experiences in the jungles of Vietnam.

Memory
Overall Story Prerequisites

In this story, the prerequisites work hand in hand with the requirements.  The soldiers with a past have an intimate knowledge about the ways of fighting in Vietnam, and they must be able to remember and draw from their past experiences in order to be effective in the fight they are currently engaged in.  Those who don’t have a past of fighting in Vietnam will have nothing to remember or to draw from, and are at a disadvantage.

Conceptualizing
Overall Story Preconditions

Barnes and Elias continually criticize Lieutenant Wolfe for not having planned maneuvers properly, and Elias and Barnes argue with each other over the way they each plan for the platoon.  At the end, we see an entire regiment used as bait to draw out the larger Viet Cong regiment.  The U.S. regiment is completely overrun.  This is just another disastrous plan in a series of disastrous plans in the platoon and U.S.’ efforts to combat the Viet Cong.

Understanding
Overall Story Forewarnings

Understanding how networked the entire area has become and how hidden and well stocked the Viet Cong are serve as forewarnings that support the consequence.  What is not appreciated also illustrates the forewarning.
ACE:  ...they caught ‘em last night trying to pull some shit on Charlie Company.  They found maps on ‘em, man - got a friend at Battalion says they had every fuckin’ foxhole here fixed on it, distances, treelines, our claymores, trip wires, everything! (Stone, p. 92) The depth to which the Viet Cong understands how and where the U.S. Forces are situated, definitely implies the platoon will soon suffer the consequences of failure.

Plot Progression

Dynamic Act Appreciations

Overall Story

Future
Overall Story Signpost 1

Chris and other new recruits are made immediately aware that their future is going to be bleak, harsh, and very possibly deadly in Vietnam.  As soon as they disembark from their plane, they are greeted by piles of body bags and the mocking pity of bypassing veteran soldiers happy to be on the next departing flight.  In the field, the new recruits struggle to adjust to platoon life.  They are quickly acquainted with the day to day rigors of the platoon, and the many tasks they must perform such as: going on point, getting up at 5 a.m., hiking all day, digging foxholes, putting out an all night ambush or a 3-man listening post in the jungle.  These actions are undertaken with the constant fear the enemy could possibly attack at any moment, and unfortunately, the new recruits, “fresh meat,” have an entire year of this to endure.

Overall Story Journey 1 from Future to Past

The fears the platoon have harbored for the future are made manifest.  The new recruit, Gardner gets killed, Tex loses an arm, Chris is grazed by a bullet in the neck on the all night ambush that goes awry.  Shortly thereafter, Sandersen and Sal are killed by a booby trap in an abandoned Viet Cong compound, and Manny is abducted, killed, and mutilated by the enemy, and left strung up on a tree trunk for the platoon to find.  The events quickly become moments in the past that produce extreme tension and frustration within the platoon.

Past
Overall Story Signpost 2

The platoon pillages and destroys a small Vietnamese village it discovers has been harboring weapons for the Viet Cong.  The carnage the platoon thrusts upon the village is an expression of the frustration that has built up among the soldiers.  This frustration is derived from past events the platoon has recently suffered, such as the loss of two men in the all night ambush, the loss of two additional men in a booby trapped Viet Cong bunker, and the abduction of another platoon member who is found strapped to a tree, dead and mutilated.  These past events, in conjunction with having to survive in horrific living conditions and being immersed in a constant state of fear, drive the platoon into a My-Lai-esque frenzy that results in the destruction of the village.

Overall Story Journey 2 from Past to Progress

Sgt. Barnes and Sgt. Elias get into an altercation over Sgt. Barnes’ controversial behavior and questionable leadership in the village.  As a result, the platoon becomes cloaked in civil war.  Half the platoon sides with Sgt. Elias, and the other half with Sgt. Barnes.  Morale among the platoon is bad.  Suspicion and hate cause them to turn on each other.  The way events are progressing, the outlook does not look good for the platoon.

Progress
Overall Story Signpost 3

The platoon gets caught in an enemy ambush, and the Viet Cong causes the platoon to suffer serious casualties.  To make matters worse, the inexperienced, incompetent Lt. Wolfe accidentally orders an air strike on the platoon’s location resulting in more casualties in the platoon.  To put an end to his own personal war, Sgt. Barnes shoots and murders Sgt. Elias when they are alone in the jungle.  The platoon keeps losing men to the enemy and to each other.  Progress for the platoon is in a very grim state.

Overall Story Journey 3 from Progress to Present

Matters continue to get worse for the platoon.  The day after suffering its most severe casualties, the platoon and several companies are sent right back into the same enemy-saturated area.  They are used as bait to lure the entire 167 Viet Cong Regiment into the open.  If the state of the platoon wasn’t bad enough, now they’re forced to face impossible odds.  When the enemy attacks the U.S. compound, the Viet Cong are able to overrun the U.S forces.  The U.S. forces are so overwhelmed, they order an air strike on their own compound.  Progress for the platoon continues in a devastating downward spiral.

Present
Overall Story Signpost 4

The morning after the ferocious confrontation brings light to the fact that Chris is one of only a few members in the platoon to survive.  Hundreds of dead American and Viet Cong soldiers’ bodies are strewn all about the compound and nearby jungle floor.  “Platoon” opens up with a shot of body bags organized in preparation to make their final journey home to America.  The film closes with hundreds of dead bodies fallen everywhere, with no particular organization, and no body bags.  It leaves us with the ominous impression that this is definitely a war America is losing.

Main Character

Understanding
Main Character Signpost 1

Immediately experiencing platoon life in Vietnam abruptly begins to change the naive, idyllic notions Chris, a volunteer, has about war.  His naivete is quickly dissipated by the stark realities of his environment.  Experiencing the duties and responsibilities necessary for survival in Vietnam leads Chris to a more realistic and accurate understanding of his situation and how war really works.

Main Character Journey 1 from Understanding to Doing

Chris’ understanding of the war increases as he engages in combat activities:  hiking through the jungle from sun up to sun down, digging foxholes, going “on point,” participating in 3-man listing posts and all night ambushes, etc.

Doing
Main Character Signpost 2

Chris and his platoon release their tension and frustrations from the war on a small Vietnamese village.  Chris contributes to the carnage by firing his rifle at the feet of a defenseless villager.  There are many illustrations of Chris “doing” throughout the film, however, the sequence where he and his platoon ravage a Vietnamese village illustrates Chris engaging in activities contrary to his essential nature.

Main Character Journey 2 from Doing to Obtaining

The extremely inhumane and brutal war crimes Sgt. Barnes commits causes Chris to abruptly regain his senses.  At this point, Chris is beginning to develop a stronger sense of moral conviction in reaction to the shocking and appalling actions of his fellow platoon members.  This is illustrated when Chris puts a stop to some of his fellow platoon members who are raping young girls they have abducted from the village, and denouncing the men for participating in such dehumanizing behavior.

Obtaining
Main Character Signpost 3

Chris finally obtains a strong aptitude for the war.  He has attained the combat skills and control over his fear necessary to perform competently during combat.  He heroically rescues several platoon members when the platoon is caught in an enemy ambush.  No longer a liability, Chris has become a valuable asset to the platoon.  Chris seeks to obtain revenge against Barnes for murdering Elias:
CHRIS:  He killed him.  I know he did.  I saw his eyes when he came back in…
RHAH:  (puffing on his bowl) How do you know the dinks didn’t get him.  You got no proof man.
CHRIS:  Proof’s in his eyes.  When you know you know.  You were there Rhah - I know what you were thinking.  I say we frag the fucker.  Tonight. (Stone, p. 85)

Main Character Journey 3 from Obtaining to Learning

Frustrated by the way the war operates, Chris begins to learn the hypocrisy that is an inherent part of it.
CHRIS:  Y’ever get caught in a mistake King and you just can’t get out of it?
KING:  Way out of anything, man.  Just keep your pecker up and your powder dry, things change.  How many days you short?
CHRIS:  Not just me… it’s the way the whole thing works.  People like Elias get wasted and people like Barnes just go on making up rules any way they want and what do we do, we just sit around in the middle and suck on it!  We just don’t add up to a rat’s ass.(Stone, p. 95)
Chris gets his revenge and kills Sgt. Barnes.

Learning
Main Character Signpost 4

Through all his experiences, Chris has come to learn the true nature of war.  The war has exposed him to its dehumanizing qualities, and the insensitive depths to which the spirit of men can sink as a result.  And it has shown him the level down to which he too can stoop, the level of cold-blooded, vengeful murder.

Influence Character

Conceptualizing
Influence Character Signpost 1

Early in the film, it’s clear that Sgt. Barnes is running the platoon.  Even though Lieutenant Wolfe is the highest ranking officer in the platoon, he is young, inexperienced, and has only recently come to Vietnam.  Thus, the other sergeants, and even Lt. Wolfe, look to Sgt. Barnes to coordinate and divvy up the platoon’s excursion detail:
WOLFE: (to Barnes) Who do you want on ambush, Sergeant?
Barnes doesn’t bother acknowledging the question, barely glancing at the Lieutenant, to him a necessary evil.  Everybody knows who’s really in charge of the platoon.  Barnes flicks his gaze to Elias.
BARNES:  Elias - you take your squad and I’ll take Tex and Francis from your squad. (to Warren)  We leave here in 2-zero minutes. (concluding)
ELIAS:  I thought it was O’Neill’s turn tonight.
They all look at each other.  O’Neill spits in the dust, a freckled, short red head with a hard worried face, a lifer, 30 going on 60.
O’NEILL:  Shit!  Morehouse and Sal are short, Fu Sheng’s going on an RnR, you don’t want to send their asses out on an ambush.  You got the fresh meat Elias.
ELIAS:  (to Barnes) They don’t know shit Barnes, and chances are they’re gonna run into something.
O’NEILL:  So what am I going to do!  Get one of my guys zapped so some fuckface fresh from the world can get his beauty fucking sleep!
ELIAS:  Hey O’Neill why don’t you cool it, you don’t have to be a prick everyday of your life you know.
O’NEILL:  Fuck you Elias.
BARNES:  Elias, get your men ready…
Concluding the debate, no further argument, Barnes rises.  The meeting’s closed.  Lt. Wolfe hasn’t said a word, looking as Elias departs, without a word. (Stone, p. 9-10)
Despite Lt. Wolfe’s seniority, Sgt. Barnes is the one who does the basic planning and strategizing for the platoon.  Barnes’ decision to send Chris on the all night ambush has severe ramifications for the new soldier, who is inexperienced in combat, and is blamed for the loss of two men in the platoon.

influence Character Journey 1 from Conceptualizing to Being

For the all night ambush to work as effectively as Sgt. Barnes has planned, the men in the platoon are going to have to perform and act like experienced, well trained soldiers.  Sgt. Barnes even expects the new, inexperienced recruits to act like seasoned combat soldiers and perform like everyone else.

Being
Influence Character Signpost 2

When the ambush goes awry and the platoon experiences casualties, Sgt. Barnes blames it on the way the men acted, and he gives them a lecture on how they need to be and act when they are on a nighttime ambush:
BARNES: (to all) Y’all take a good look at this lump of shit!  Remember what it looks like.  You fuck up in a fire fight and I goddamn guarantee you a trip out of the bush, in a body bag!  Out here assholes, ya keep your shit wired tight at all times!  (to Chris) And that goes for you, shit for brains.  You don’t sleep on no fucking ambush!  And the next son of a bitch I catch coppin’ “Z” in the bush, I’m personally going to take an interest in seein’ suffer.  I shit you not!  (to Doc) Doc, tag’em and bag’em.
On the ambush, a soldier gets his arm blown off by a grenade and hysterically screams from the pain.  Sgt. Barnes covers the soldiers mouth and demands him to stop screaming and take the suffering, so potential enemies don’t locate their position.

Influence Character Journey 2 from Being to Becoming

When two more platoon members are killed by a booby trap in an abandoned enemy bunker, Chris notices Sgt. Barnes sitting down, lost in a thought.  Barnes is obviously affected by the deaths of more of his men, enough so to make him momentarily lose his tough, military sergeant facade and expose a slight vulnerability.  Upon leaving the bunker en route to a nearby village, the platoon discovers the mutilated remains of one of its soldiers who was just abducted by the Viet Cong.  The platoon becomes very upset with this recent discovery, but none seem to be as mentally and emotionally afflicted as Sgt. Barnes.  Emotions and tensions riding high, Sgt. Barnes shoots a villager he sees running away in the back when they approach the village—a case of shoot first ask questions later.  When Barnes suspects the villagers of being Viet Cong sympathizers, Barnes viciously shoots and kills the wife of the village chief, and threatens to shoot the chief’s young daughter as a means of coercing information out of the chief about the Viet Cong.  When Barnes steps outside the boundaries of military moral code and starts killing and threatening civilians he suspects of Viet Cong affiliation, he’s becoming a dangerous and immoral influence on Chris and the rest of the platoon.

Becoming
Influence Character Signpost 3

To prevent Sgt. Elias from reporting war crime charges against him, Sgt. Barnes shoots and murders Elias when the two are alone in the jungle.  He has become so dehumanized and corrupted by the experiences of the war, he is willing to shoot his own men to prevent them from challenging his way of war.  Barnes has become a ruthless, cold-blooded killer.

Influence Character Journey 3 from Becoming to Conceiving

Sgt. Barnes confronts Chris and some of the other men when he overhears them talking about killing him to revenge Elias’ murder.  Barnes conceives the idea of challenging Chris and the others to kill him.  By doing so, Barnes is able to call their bluff, and deal with this conflict directly and on his terms.  Barnes defeats any ideas they might have had about killing him.  The men cower at the blunt prospect of having to kill their menacing sergeant.  Chris is the only one to make a feeble attempt to attack and kill Barnes.  Barnes easily overpowers Chris and would have killed him if the other men weren’t there to intervene.

Conceiving
Influence Character Signpost 4

In the heat of hand to hand combat, Sgt. Barnes conceives of killing Chris as a means of eliminating anyone who’s a threat of implicating him in the murder of Elias.

Relationship Story

Memory
Relationship Story Signpost 1

Since Chris has just arrived to the platoon and has no past experience of fighting and surviving in jungle combat, he has no memories he can draw upon to serve him in the current situation.  He overpacks his back pack, has difficulty climbing,  drinks too much water and cramps up, doesn’t yet know how to conserve his energy, and ends up passing out.  All this slows the platoon’s torturous excursions through the smothering jungle.  None of this sits well with Sgt. Barnes, who drives Chris and the platoon hard throughout the jungle hikes.  Barnes sees Chris as a liability to the platoon: 
...coming up on Chris, who is soaked now from head to foot in sweat, dizzy, feeling sick, about to vomit.
BARNES:  What the hell’s matter with you Taylor!  You are one simple son-of-a-bitch!  Get that other “cherry” up here, Gardner!
He grabs Chris’ machete out of his hand and bulls his way into the foliage, tearing it apart, setting a new pace. (Stone, p. 4)

Relationship Story Journey 1 from Memory to PreconsciousImmediately after Chris arrives to the platoon, Sgt. Barnes decides to send Chris out on the all night ambush despite the fact that Chris has not yet had the necessary experience or conditioning to be an effective soldier in jungle combat.
Preconscious
Relationship Story Signpost 2

When the all night ambush goes awry, Sgt. Barnes focuses on Chris’ preconscious responses as being the cause of the problem.  Barnes believes that Chris fell asleep during his watch, allowing the enemy to sneak up on the platoon.  Even though this isn’t true, Barnes blames Chris’ inability to resist his impulse to sleep as the cause of the platoon’s two casualties:
Sgt. Barnes:  (to all) Y’all take a good look at this lump of shit!  Remember what it looks like.  You fuck up in a fire fight and I goddamn guarantee you a trip out of the bush, in a body bag!  Out here assholes, ya keep your shit wired tight at all times!  (to Chris) And that goes for you, shit for brains.  You don’t sleep on no fucking ambush!  And the next son of a bitch I catch coppin’ “Z” in the bush, I’m personally going to take an interest in seein’ suffer.  I shit you not!  (to Doc) Doc, tag’em and bag’em. (Stone, p. 21)

Relationship Story Journey 2 from Preconscious to Subconscious

While Chris is on point, he unwittingly approaches a camouflaged Viet Cong bunker and Sgt. Barnes instinctively warns him of the pressing danger.  Chris seems awestruck that his worse fear could have been realized—he could have been easily killed if there had been enemy troops in the bunker.

Subconscious
Relationship Story Signpost 3

The platoon investigates a small village suspected of Viet Cong activity.  This happens immediately after the platoon has lost several men to booby traps at the Viet Cong bunker complex.  Extreme tension and frustration has overcome the men.  At the village, Sgt. Barnes makes a profound impact on Chris. 
CHRIS (V.O.):  ...the village, which had stood for maybe a thousand years, didn’t know we were coming that day.  If they had they would have run… Barnes was at the eye of our rage - and through him, our Captain Ahab - we would set things right again.  That day we loved him…(Stone, p. 45)
Emotions are riding high, and everyone adopts a hard-line treatment of the villagers.  All the men in the platoon, including Chris, are functioning on raw emotions and follow Sgt. Barnes’ leadership, committing war crimes against the villagers.  Chris, like Sgt. Barnes, finds himself taking his aggression and frustration out on the defenseless villagers.  Momentarily losing control of his senses, Chris fires his gun at the feet of a retarded village man.

Relationship Story Journey 3 from Subconscious to Conscious

Despite his frustration and anger, there is a line that Chris will not cross when it comes to the human rights of others.  Barnes crosses that line.  Sgt. Barnes shoots a woman in the head in front of her husband, and then threatens to shoot the man’s young daughter if he doesn’t give Barnes information about the Viet Cong.  The sergeant’s actions momentarily shock the entire platoon, but then seem to inspire the platoon to want to kill all the villagers.  The inhumane, merciless treatment Barnes carries out shocks Chris and rekindles his conscience and sense of morals.  Chris is obviously opposed to, and appalled by, Sgt. Barnes’ course of action, but is in no position to prevent the horrible events he witnesses.
After Sgt. Barnes has shot and murdered Sgt. Elias, he begins to consider Chris as another crusader that wants to challenge his authority.  Chris sees Barnes for the immoral, ruthless murderer that he is.  Each of the men begin to have a moral conflict with one another over what the other considers as “right” and “wrong.”  Outraged by Sgt. Elias’ murder, Chris tries to convince some of the others in the platoon that they need to kill Barnes in revenge.  Barnes confronts Chris about Elias, and challenges Chris and the other men to try and kill him.  Barnes is able to provoke Chris to attack him, and Barnes almost kills Chris, but is persuaded not to by Rhah.

Conscious
Relationship Story Signpost 4

Sgt. Barnes’ impact on Chris eventually dehumanizes him to the point where he is capable of killing his commanding officer, fully conscious that he is committing the same type of immoral act that Sgt. Barnes has engaged in.

Plot Progression Visualizations

Dynamic Act Schematics

OS: MC: IC: RS:

Dramatica Story Expert

the next chapter in story development

Buy Now