Three to go before Schindler’s List!!

It’s no secret that Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now is an outright adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, except that Africa has been replaced by a Vietnam in the grips of a civil war that blew out to international proportions (i.e. the Vietnam war). Like it’s novel counterpart, this experience of darkness is framed by the man (Marlowe in the novel, here known as Willard) given the mission to track down a man named Kurtz. Unlike the novel however, this mission is a non-existant assassination assignment. I have never seen the original 152 minute version (does a dvd of that actually exist?) so this is based entirely on the huge 202 minute long Redux. All up, my conclusion is…one should never watch such a long film based on material one does not truly understand.

Back in December/January, I didn’t quite know what to think of the novel, and now, watching Apocalypse Now Redux is like viewing a series of scenes, some that amuse, some that disgust, yet others that raise indifference (in some people, anyway). The first thing that grabbed my attention was Harrison Ford as one of the big-hats who assign Willard his mission. Then of course, we encounter the Americans in Vietnam, of whom the most memorable character is Lt-Colonel Kilgore (his is that famous line: “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”). This surf-mad Colonel does not duck at the call of ‘incoming!’, brings a surfboard with him on missions, and demands that some of his men enjoy the waves created by the force of his raids – whilst bullets are still splitting the air. Scenes of the soldiers jumping at the very sight of (white) female skin, later emphasised again by the exchange Willard makes to ‘save’ the men upon whom the success of his mission depends (he is taken up-river towards Kurtz by a surveillance-type crew, IIRC), portray the animalistic instincts of human-kind. I found the French family to be a strange addition – what I recall of them is the opinionated declarations of, effectively, ‘they won’t drive us out, we are here to stay!’ and criticisms of the Americans whom they felt should have easily won the war. Also memorable was the encounter between Willard’s crew and a local water craft, where suspicion and rising tensions lead to the murder of innocents. A few encounters later, we finally arrive at Kurtz, whom Willard has been analysing throughtout his journey, struggling to understand why a man destined for the upper echelons of the army would throw it all away, and eerie order of the community within which Kurtz has established himself as ‘God’, a stark contrast to all the scenes before, presents the answers. And yet, both choices are, in their own ways, madness.

Apocalypse Now eschews colonialism in favour of representing the realities and insanity of war, but the same sins which plagued the former are still relevant, particularly egotism and greed. To be honest, some parts of the film had me drifting off from time to time, particularly towards the end (it was late, I was tired, and frankly, as those who’ve seen The Godfather would know, Marlon Brando mumbles, a lot). But Coppola, I believe, succeeds in presenting one of the most realistic portrayals of war on film. Even though I prefer Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line, it did not leave me with a feeling of gloom – Apocalypse Now, wherein no-one is redeemable, demands that we really contemplate what we believe, as well as the decisions that we make, and the decisions we allow our leaders to make.


And darn…the Japanese yen is strengthening…please don’t strengthen too much before May!!

But now…I’m off to watch something I’ve been looking forward to for a very long time XD

About karice
MAG fan, translator, and localization project manager. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

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