John Lennon’s 75th Birthday – ‘Imagine’ & The Devastating Final Scene In ‘The Killing Fields’

John Lennon.

For what would’ve been John Lennon’s 75th birthday yesterday, we asked listeners to The Two (Newstalk ZB, Fridays 8pm-midnight, Sundays 8pm-11pm) to talk about how Lennon inspired them and what memories he triggers.

Like millions of fans there are probably countless things that enter the mind when you hear the name “John Lennon,” though none more affecting for me than this clip below. Imagine has never been my absolute favourite Lennon song, but the way its overarching message of hope is used in the final scene of the 1984 Oscar-winning film The Killing Fields always gets me.

*Spoiler alert if you’ve never seen The Killing Fields*

Based on the true story of New York Times journalist Sydney Schanberg and his Cambodian interpreter Dith Pran during Cambodia’s genocide in the late 70s, the marriage of music, lyrics and imagery is devastating. To appreciate the depth of feeling between Scanberg (beautifully played by Sam Waterston) and Pran (Dr Haing S. Ngor – a survivor of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime himself), you really need to have seen the first two hours of the movie.

But short of that, hopefully this scene is either a reminder or a taster of what it would be like to be reunited with the person who’d saved your life, five years after you last saw them and feared them dead. The scene is about love, brotherhood, loyalty and forgiveness, juxtaposed against the horrors mankind had been committing in South East Asia in the 60s and 70s. And that’s not restricted to the genocide by the Khmer Rouge but so too the not-so-secret bombing of by the USA of Cambodia and Laos on the Ho Chi Minh Trail during the Vietnam War – matters covered by Scanberg in the New York Times.

As the words and music of Lennon fade up in the scene – “and the world will live as one,” – Scanberg asks for forgiveness for not being able to evacuate Pran when the bulk of the last foreigners fled Phnom Penh in 1975. Pran responds, showing the rotting teeth of five years of malnutrition, concentration camps and life on the run. He smiles, saying “nothing to forgive, nothing to forgive.” What better way to honour the memory of John Lennon.

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