The iconic Vietnam War novel ‘The Things They Carried’ is getting a film with a star-studded cast

Tom Hardy will embrace his third major military role after Black Hawk Down and Dunkirk as he leads an ensemble cast in 'The Things They Carried', a new movie based on Pultizer Prize-finalist Tim O'Brien's short story collection of the same name about his experiences during Vietnam

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One of the most visceral and beloved collections of short stories about the Vietnam War is getting adapted into a new movie with a star-studded cast. 

Tom Hardy will embrace his third major military role after Black Hawk Down and Dunkirk as he leads an ensemble cast in The Things They Carried, a new movie based on Pultizer Prize-finalist Tim O’Brien’s short story collection of the same name about his experiences during Vietnam, Deadline reports.

Producer David Zander, best known for Spring Breakers, had previously optioned the book from O’Brien, who has been working alongside Zander, Hardy, and the latter’s production partner Dean Baker to develop the work for the big screen.

As Deadline notes, stories within O’Brien’s award-winning collection were previously adapted for the screen in 1998’s A Soldier’s Sweetheart starring Kiefer Sutherland.

“Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried is his seminal masterwork – a raw, unflinching, and emotionally truthful literary experience filtered through a kaleidoscope of memory that’s impossible not to be profoundly moved by,” said Hardy and Baker in a statement to Deadline.

“We are all deeply passionate about and honored to have the good fortune of working alongside Tim in bringing his vital classic to screen – and together with our incredible cast, Rupert, Scott, and David – we look forward to creating what we feel will be an important film.”

The proposed cast currently includes Stephen James, Tye Sheridan, Bill Skarsgard, Pete Davidson, Ashton Sanders, Moises Arias, and Angus Cloud as the men of ‘Alpha Company,’ the fictional unit based on soldiers from the Army’s 23rd Infantry Division.

While casting remains unclear, it’s likely that Hardy will play Lt. Jimmy Cross, the leader of Alpha Company who, in the book’s titular short story, carries a physical reminder of his unrequited love at home until the death of a squad member leads him to burn the emotional distraction (O’Brien himself is written into the story as a soldier under Cross’s command).

The Things They Carried is legendary among readers of military history and fiction not just for its ubiquitous presence on American school reading syllabi, but for its staunchly apolitical focus on the lived experiences of American soldiers as they fought their way through the jungles of Vietnam, part of O’Brien’s effort to educate the unknowing public at home to the realities of the conflict there. 

But the book’s power is nestled in the contrast between the mundanities of war — the things that troops carry, for example — and the larger questions of military service, something beautifully captured in a contemporary review of The Things They Carried upon the book’s publication in 1990:

In the title story, Mr. O’Brien juxtaposes the mundane and the deadly items that soldiers carry into battle. Can openers, pocketknives, wristwatches, mosquito repellent, chewing gum, candy, cigarettes, salt tablets, packets of Kool-Aid, matches, sewing kits, C rations are ”humped” by the G.I.’s along with M-16 assault rifles, M-60 machine guns, M-79 grenade launchers. But the story is really about the other things the soldiers ”carry”: ”grief, terror, love, longing . . . shameful memories” and, what unifies all the stories, ”the common secret of cowardice.” These young men, Mr. O’Brien tells us, ”carried the soldier’s greatest fear, which was the fear of blushing. Men killed, and died, because they were embarrassed not to.”

Embarrassment, the author reveals in ”On the Rainy River,” is why he, or rather the fictional version of himself, went to Vietnam. He almost went to Canada instead. What stopped him, ironically, was fear. ”All those eyes on me,” he writes, ”and I couldn’t risk the embarrassment. . . . I couldn’t endure the mockery, or the disgrace, or the patriotic ridicule. . . . I was a coward. I went to the war.”

The Things They Carried is a timeless tale about the human heart,” said producer Zander in a statement. It’s about fear and courage and friendship. It’s about growing up, about holding oneself together in the face of terrible events…or not holding oneself together at all. It’s about death. And how to live on in the aftermath of death. It’s about the weight of the things we all carry.”

While details on the release of the production remain murky due to a variety of factors (including the ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic), Hardy and company reportedly plan to start shooting The Things They Carried in Thailand beginning in “early 2021.”

[Buy The Things They Carried on Amazon now]