Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Russian Roulette, Three Bullet Mow Mow, and Joseph Conrad

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

The Russian Roulette scene from The Deer Hunter stands out as one of the most poignant and exhilarating scenes in cinema history. If you are not familiar with the film, a group of buddies from a coal mining town in Pennsylvania go off to Vietnam together. They get captured, thrown in a POW camp where they are submerged in an underwater cage. They only let out for routine beatings and to play heads up Russian roulette as a form of gambling amusement for the VC.

For the few of you who don't know, Russian Roulette is a true walk on the wild side because you load a revolver with one bullet, spin the cartridge, and then pull the trigger. You have a 1 in 6 chance of putting a bullet in your skull on the first try, or a 83% chance of surviving. Are you willing to take those odds on something grave as life and death? How much are you willing to wager on your life? Do you flirt with death to finally know what it feels like to be allive? Are you addicted to the ultimate rush poker -- creeping to the edge and then pulling the trigger?

It's hard to say when exactly Russian Roulette was invented because the origins are shrouded in ambiguity. Historians point to WWII during the Nazi's siege of Stalingrad where suicidal officers engaged in the game. Other historians insist that Russian Roulette began in 19th century prisons or in the early 20th century gulags when bored guards made prisoners play the savage game of chance. The barbaric guards wagered on which unlucky prisoners would blow their brains out. Stories also exist about starving Russian peasants playing the game in an all-in or nothing wagering proposition for rubles. If they won and survived, they'd have enough money to eat. If they lost, then they died a quick death, avoiding a gruesome end via starvation.

In The Deer Hunter, the VC were crazy Asian gamblers mixing business with pleasure while gambling on the outcome of heads-up Russian Roulette between captured GIs, in this case the characters played by Bobby DeNiro and Christopher Walken.

You probably should watch the scebe again to refresh your memory. The Deer Hunter's Russian Roulette scene is unembeddable, so you have to go to YouTube to watch it.

DeNiro is a fucking bad ass in The Deer Hunter. He's been outrunning variance his entire tour in 'Nam and under intense pressure, he conjured up an escape scheme using the one game that the VC used to amuse themselves. Russian Roulette. It would either be his end, or his ticket to freedom. Either way, he was finally getting out of there. DeNiro planned to get it all in on a coin flip.

"Three bullets," he demanded.

One six-chambered gun. Three bullets? Clearly this man is insane, or he's a math whiz who knows his odds because DeNiro was the Bill Chen of his unit. His plan was simple -- if he didn't blow his head off with the first bullet (a coin flip), he knew that he'd have a 40% chance to escape.

He pulled the trigger and...click. Nothing.

I guess the Russian Roulette Gods were paying attention that day because DeNiro caught a break and won the first coinflip. Christopher Walken trembled knowing that there were 3 bullets and only 2 empty chambers. 60-40.

He pulled the trigger and... click. Nothing.

Walken miraculously whiffed on his turn. The general handed the gun back to DeNiro, with three bullets in four chambers. Only one chamber was empty with a 75% chance that the next pull of the trigger would result in a discharged bullet. The guards were cackling because they knew he was fucked. In DeNiro's eyes, he was slowplaying the nuts. Instead of putting the gun to his temple and pulling the trigger, he shot the general in the head, then dropped two others. He acquired a machine and took out the rest of the guards with Walken. That winning round of Russian Roulette sparked a dramatic escape.

An afterthought... the final Russian Roulette scene in Vietnam after the war pretty much secured Walken an Oscar for Best Supporting Role. Well deserved performance.

Not to sound too morbid, but it's a matter of time before MMA becomes passe, like pro wrestling, and a sadistic entrepreneur and promoter starts streaming live Russian roulette matches from a remote Brazilian village with real participants, using live ammo.

Instead of Monday Night Football, the latest rage among the entertainment-junkies and other mindless urchins will be Monday Night Russian Roulette, co-hosted by Dennis Miller (with his snarky over-your-head-with-too-many-obscure-reference-socio-political-commentary) and Dick Vitale, who share announcing duties of the weekly death sport.

Welcome back to the Heart of Darkness.


  1. Anonymous11:09 AM

    I think your math is a little fuzzy. Assuming the bullets are placed in sequential chambers than the probability of no bullet on the first pull is indeed 50:50. However for the second shot the probability is 66.6% of no bullet. For shooting the guard the probability is actually 50% of the chamber containing a bullet.

  2. Reader of your blogs12:25 PM

    I like... trees.