Friday Night Film Series: Rolling Thunder

The 1977 film, Rolling Thunder was featured this past Friday as part of the Friday Night Film Series.  Rolling Thunder follows the story of Major Charles Rane, who returns home to San Antonio, Texas after seven years as a Vietnam War prisoner of war (POW) and is thus recognized as one of the most violent films of its time. As Rane tries to settle back into his old life, he finds that a lot of things in his life have changed – particularly his relationship with his family. Complications arise when four robbers break into his home, killing his family. After his rehabilitation, Rane decides to find the four murderers and to avenge his family’s death, taking Linda, a bar waitress, with him. 

The film received mixed reviews from its viewers, who were not completely certain how to interpret its meaning. 

“The film was definitely about American machismo. The protagonist had a flagrant disregard for women and there was a superficiality about the American culture,” senior Zach Abt said. 

Rane is a silent, physically strong and mysterious protagonist. His dialogue appears sparse, showing how he has little to say after his experiences in the war, and he spends a large part of the film hiding behind his sunglasses, almost as if to emotionally distance himself from everyone. These elements characterize him as powerful, and he flaunts this power throughout the film. At points of the story, his presence intimidates both his wife, who was demure in confronting him about their marriage and Linda, who did not report his murderous intentions despite feeling like it was the morally correct choice. 

Furthermore, the film can be viewed as being very “American,” highlighting aspects of American culture, including family and materialistic values. It is clear that Rane has a very strong nuclear family, with a dependent wife and a son he plays baseball with. Later in the film, Rane’s revenge is viewed as a form of justice; his actions defend the American values that the robbers violated. 

“I thought it was kind of a sad story. I think the movie actually told the story of a very disturbed man who was battling PTSD,” first-year Carmen Kong said. 

Rane is seen having trouble sleeping, and the use of brief flashbacks provide insight into Rane’s fears. These struggles, in addition to the ones he faces after his family is murdered, create a very hopeless character who fears nothing and has nothing to lose. His muddled psychological state enables him to carry out his revenge and ultimately leads to the most violent part of the film, a climactic shootout in a brothel.

Overall, Rolling Thunder provided viewers with the opportunity to think about the implications of revenge. It’s definitely the kind of movie that can impact people in various ways.