The Sympathizer

The Sympathizer

by

Viet Thanh Nguyen

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The Sympathizer: Chapter 10 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narrator’s notes to the Auteur allow for some change in how the Vietnamese will be represented in the film. The Auteur accepts the notes about how people will scream and includes three Vietnamese characters with speaking parts—an older brother, a younger sister, and a little brother whose parents have been killed by “King Cong,” or the Viet Cong. The older brother, Binh, hates King Cong and loves his American rescuers, whom he serves as a translator. He will eventually be killed by King Cong. His sister, Mai, will fall in love with the idealistic Sergeant Jay Bellamy. She will then be kidnapped and raped by King Cong, which becomes the justification for the Green Berets destroying King Cong. The little boy will be “crowned” with a Yankees cap in the final scene and airlifted out of his homeland. Sergeant Bellamy will take him back to his wealthy family in St. Louis, where he will be given a golden retriever with his nickname—Danny Boy.
By depicting the Viet Cong as a ruthless guerrilla army with no other apparent desire than killing people, the Auteur encourages the fantasy that the actual Viet Cong was without a purpose or meaningful political ideology. By naming them King Cong, he can also perpetuate their fearsome image. Though the narrator gets his wish of having Vietnamese characters with speaking parts, all of them exist to admire the white people in the film, particularly the wealthy Jay Bellamy, a character who stands to gain the audience’s admiration for his willingness to reject his life of privilege in favor of defending his country against a Communist enemy.
Themes
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
Violet tells the narrator that no Vietnamese actors were cast because those who auditioned were amateurs, and the professionals overacted. The narrator hears this as her telling him that the Vietnamese can’t represent themselves, so they’ll be represented by other Asians. The narrator reports on the cast to his Parisian aunt. He includes “glazed Polaroids” of himself with them and another that he took “with the reluctant Auteur.” He also sends Polaroids of the refugee camp and its inhabitants, as well as newspaper clippings that the General gave him before he left for the Philippines. They are stories about refugees fleeing Vietnam in “leaky little boats” to sail to Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Some of the boats sank when confronted by storms and pirates.
The narrator doesn’t believe that Violet and the Auteur couldn’t find Vietnamese actors. He suspects that they cast whoever they wanted in the roles, believing that it wouldn’t matter, as long as the actors were Asian. Still, the narrator reports on his work to Man with a positive outlook. The narrator is attempting to control multiple narratives: he wants to depict the Vietnamese more humanely; he wants to depict the Viet Cong more fairly; and he wants to show his Communist handlers how the situation in Vietnam is being depicted in the U.S.
Themes
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Most of the film extras play civilians who may also be Viet Cong, and who will probably be killed for being Viet Cong or for being suspected of being Viet Cong. Most of the extras are already familiar with this role, having experienced it in real life. The next category of extras is the soldiers in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. All of the men want this role, even though these characters are also regarded as possible enemies who’ll likely be killed. There are many veterans from the South Vietnamese Army among the extras, so the narrator has no problem casting for this role.
The casting of the extras reveals the real-life ambiguity about who the Americans regarded as friends and foes in Vietnam. Due to their supposed inability to tell Vietnamese people apart, the Americans suspected even South Vietnamese of being Viet Cong. Every Vietnamese person was presumed guilty and had to prove themselves innocent.
Themes
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
The most difficult category for the narrator to cast is for that of the National Liberation Front guerilla, or the Viet Cong. No one wants this role. Money ends up solving the problem. After some strong persuasion from the narrator, Violet doubles the salary for these extras. What they find repugnant about the role is that they’ll simulate the torture of Binh and the rape of Mai. The narrator’s relationship with the Auteur unravels when he asks the director if the rape is necessary. The director insists that the scene will give movie audiences the shock they need. Moreover, rape is something that happens in war and he has an obligation to show that, even though a “sellout” like the narrator would disagree.
None of the veterans wants to play the role of their former enemy. The extras’ repugnance at depicting Mai’s rape mirrors the narrator’s own—it’s too close to their lived reality. The Auteur’s insistence on having the rape scene in the film seems to have less to do with understanding what the Viet Cong actually did with people whom they captured than it does with his wish to depict his own rape fantasy onscreen.
Themes
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
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The narrator is stunned by the Auteur’s “unprovoked attack.” When the narrator denies being a sellout, the Auteur snorts and says that that’s exactly what one of the narrator’s people would call someone who would help a white man like him. Or, maybe, “loser” is a better term, he offers. The narrator agrees that he’s a loser for believing the promises that America made to him and his people. The Auteur says that the narrator’s opinions don’t matter. The narrator responds by inviting the Auteur to perform fellatio on him, which leads to the director threatening to gouge out the narrator’s eyes with a spoon and then force-feed them to him.
The narrator winces at the Auteur’s accusation, particularly because he continues to think that he’s doing something that will be beneficial to his people and that will help Americans regard the Vietnamese with more humanity. The Auteur’s violent reaction to the narrator’s insult results from his feeling that his masculinity has been attacked, particularly by someone whom the Auteur regards as inferior to him socially. The Auteur also casually throws around threats of gruesome violence. They are surely hyperbole to him, but the narrator has actually experienced extreme violence like this in reality.
Themes
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
The Auteur and the narrator are no longer on speaking terms. He explains Binh’s torture scene to the extras without looking at the narrator who will translate to them. The Auteur says that they’ve just ambushed a patrol and Binh is the sole survivor. The extras are to see Binh as a “backstabber with yellow skin but a white soul.” They’re to make him confess his “reactionary sins.” He’ll then pay for them. He concludes by telling the extras to “have fun,” be themselves, and “just act natural.” The extras are confused by this because torture has nothing to do with “acting natural.” When the Auteur asks what’s wrong, the tall sergeant says that everything’s fine.
The Auteur wants to depict the way in which the Vietnamese turned against each other, and how the Viet Cong committed cruel acts against their own people. The torture scene, which the Auteur expects the extras to depict as “natural,” reinforces the notion of the Viet Cong as cruel savages with no sense of loyalty to anyone or anything but Communism.
Themes
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
At this point in the script, Binh, nicknamed “Benny,” has been caught in a probe led by the A-Team’s only black soldier, Sergeant Pete Attucks, whose name comes from his ancestor, Crispus Attucks. The sergeant steps into a booby trap—a bear claw made of bamboo spikes—and loses his left foot. The Viet Cong captures him and Binh. They castrate Attucks and stuff his genitals into his mouth. According to Claude, this was something that some Native American tribes did to “trespassing white settlers.” Claude finds it ironic that the Viet Cong had a similar practice, regarding it as proof of shared humanity.
The sole black character exists to be killed, with the implication that he dies for his country, despite not being treated as an equal in his country. The decision to castrate Attucks and stuff his genitals in his mouth is more reminiscent of what white spectators would do to their black male victims after a lynching.
Themes
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
During his torture scene, James Yoon grimaces, grunts, cries, bawls real tears, yells, shrieks, wriggles, twists, thrashes, heaves, and climaxes when he vomits his breakfast of chorizo and eggs. At the end of the scene, the set is silent. Everyone is stunned by the performance. The Auteur towels him off and says, “That was amazing, Jimmy, absolutely amazing.” Then, he asks him to do it again, just to be sure.
Yoon is using the scene to show off his acting prowess and to win an Oscar nomination. If he succeeds, he’ll manage to expand the visibility of Asian people in film, but he’ll be doing this in the context of a film that still reinforces many stereotypes and reasserts the white savior myth.
Themes
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
In the end, the Auteur asks for six takes. At noon, he asks Yoon if he wants to break for lunch. The actor shudders and says that he’ll stay where he is. He wants to feel like he’s really being tortured. While everyone else goes to the shady canteen, the narrator sits by Yoon and offers to shelter him with a parasol, but Yoon refuses. He insists that people like Binh went through much worse; the narrator agrees. While training for the secret police, the narrator learned from Claude that brute force only gets an interrogator bad answers. Yoon asks for some water and the narrator gets it for him. The narrator is relieved to hear the Auteur’s voice, calling out for the completion of the scene “so Jimmy can get back to the pool.”
Though the narrator has actual experience with torturing people, he is assisting in a scene that offers a depiction of torture that may bear no relation to reality. He probably refrains from offering any suggestions due to the fact that he and the Auteur are no longer on speaking terms. Moreover, the Auteur is clearly uninterested in any suggestion that would disrupt his vision for the film.
Themes
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
By the final take two hours later, Yoon is teary with pain and his face is bathed in actual sweat, mucus, vomit, and tears. The narrator looks at him and thinks of the communist agent. For the next scene, the Auteur requires several takes. It’s the last one in the movie for Yoon. Unable to get their victim to confess, the Viet Cong beat his brains out with a spade. Binh drowns under a faucet of two gallons of his own blood. For the brains, Harry has concocted “homemade cerebro-matter” made of oatmeal and agar, which he daubs on the earth around Yoon’s head. The cinematographer closes in to capture the look in Binh’s eyes, “some saintly mix of ecstatic pain and painful ecstasy.” The character never utters a word in response to his punishment, at least not “an intelligible one.”
For the narrator, the fantasy of cinema conflates with the reality of torture that he has witnessed. In cinema, torture can be idealized by depicting Yoon as a kind of saint for what he’s willing to endure to defend his relationship with the Americans. This illusion of saintliness tries to find nobility in such suffering, though the narrator knows better. The last line is an ironic twist on the narrator’s previous complaint to the Auteur about the Vietnamese characters not having speaking parts. The Auteur has gone from barely depicting the Vietnamese to deifying them—but either way, they are still not treated as full, complex human beings.
Themes
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon