The When Pyle falls in love with Phoung

The film The Quiet American takes place during the 1950’s in Vietnam. The movie illustrates the atmosphere of Vietnam previous to the Vietnam War and during the French occupation of the country. The main plot of the movie revolves around three characters: Fowler played by Michael Caine, Pyle played by Brendan Fraiser, and Phoung played by Do Thi Hai Yen. For the duration of the movie the three main characters are involved in a semi love triangle. This triangle and the emotions that the male characters feel towards Phoung begin to characterize the way they feel about the country of Vietnam itself. Vietnam becomes feminized, taboo, and sexualized just as Phoung does in Pyle and Fowler’s eyes.
The manner in which Fowler and Pyle struggle over Phoung represents the approach that Britain and America employed in their fight to “save” Vietnam from communism. Pyle’s’ intentions toward Phoung, although similar in some cases to Fowler’s, differ greatly at the same time. Both men view Phoung as a sort of object that needs to be saved or requires some sort of assistance in order to endure life. When Pyle falls in love with Phoung upon their first meeting, he decides that he must do whatever he can or whatever he deems necessary in order to “save” Phoung from a lowly existence. This is the exact same way that Pyle views Vietnam and its present condition. He wants to rescue Vietnam from what he believes to be unadulterated evil: communism. Pyle does this in any way necessary, whether it requires his support of a third party dictator or standing by and watching the massacre of countless innocent Vietnamese citizens. Pyle doesn’t love Vietnam so much as he hates communism, in the same way he doesn’t love Phoung so much as he does not want Fowler to have her.
Fowler on the other hand walks a thin line between noninvolvement and participation within the situations at hand. Fowler believes that Vietnam should be left to make its own decisions, but at the same time he is afraid of the consequences of such choices. This policy of noninvolvement and noncommittal is the same way that he approaches all the situations within his life. Fowler does not want to become concerned with the circumstances occurring in Vietnam and he also does not wholeheartedly become involved in the situation between Pyle and Phoung until he is forced to do so. He essentially permits Phoung to decide whom she wants to be with until he is compelled to leave his state of neutrality when it does not seem as if he will become the winner of her heart. Yet again Fowler’s feelings towards Phoung embody his feelings towards Vietnam. Fowler wanted to give Phoung a chance to make her own decisions until he becomes petrified that she will choose the stability of Pyle rather than himself. In a similar way, Fowler believed that Vietnam should be able to choose what would occur in its own future but he was afraid at the same time that they would make the wrong decision and elect a communist leader.
Although Phoung’s embodiment of Vietnam is the major personification of the film, there is yet another. During the film, Phoung refers to French men and their instability as boyfriends to Vietnamese women. The women of Vietnam become disillusioned with the French suitors much as Vietnam becomes disillusioned with France and wants their occupancy of the country to come to an end. Once the Vietnamese women become disenchanted with the French men they turn to suitors from Britain and America much like Phoung turned to Pyle and Fowler. This is representative of Vietnam pitting Britain and America against one another in order to gain whatever it was that was needed at the timed, whether it was an end to French occupancy or financial and military support.
“You must choose a side in order to remain human,” this is what Fowler’s associate reminds him of towards the end of the film. This is what this movie was really about. In the end everyone had to choose which side they were going to be on. Even Fowler had to make a choice. By opting to fight for Phoung, Fowler also decided to fight for Vietnam’s right to choose. By choosing to save Phoung, Pyle chooses to save the country that he “loved” so dearly. When it’s all said and done, it does not really make a difference which side you choose as long as you choose a side.

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