APOCALYPSE NOW (REDUX), Francis Ford Coppola 1979


Apocalypse Now is one of these must see classics that you never find yourself encouraged enough to watch due to its extend length. I had tried to see it many times always falling asleep, probably it’s such a dark and slow movie and the atmosphere is so thick and suffocating I had to wait to the right moment as it came to happen two days ago. 

After not being able to fit in his former life and in society  after his return from Vietnam, and having nothing left behind for his wife asked for divorce, Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) decides to come back to ‘Nam for a second round.  Abandoned to alcoholism he waits in Saigon to be summoned for a new mission until somebody knocks at his wasted hotel  room door.

He’s asked to terminate Colonel  Kurtz (Marlon Brando), a Green Beret and what could be called a war hero whose  career has been outstanding until some point, when he’s started to carry out his own project of erasing Vietcong, obviously not approved by US government nor Army. They reckon Kurtz has gone insane and is dangerous and no longer useful.

Willard will have to travel up to Cambodia in a classified mission that according to his superiors does not exist and if in case it becomes public, US Army won’t recognize nor admit.

Thus transport by Nung River is arranged although patrol swiftboat crew is not informed on the target of final destination. Clean (Lawrence Fishborne), Chef, Lance the surfer, and Chief Phillips are his only companion during this journey to the unknown.

Napalm, the smell of victory

Napalm, the smell of victory

They will have several encounters with other American soldiers, such as eccentric  Colonel Kilgore (Robert Duvall) who loves surfing, a party in a base with Playboy bunnies supporting and cheering them up…the deeper they get into the journey  the worse and more violent and discouraging attacks are happening, not really confirming the idea of US seizing Vietcong. Losing part of the crew and mood getting darker accompanied with some point of insanity Willard and the others remaining keep heading up to the borders to Cambodia.

Also Willard’s knowledge about Kurtz’ history makes him feel not so sure about how to proceed when he finds him, for  he, in many ways, is capable of understanding what’s going on in his mind.

Kurtz and his complex mind

Kurtz and his complex mind

Eventually, and after many events Willard will find Kurtz and the absurd of the empire he’s created based on the worship of his figure as some sort of God.

Willard, the hunter

Willard, the hunter

Obviously impact caused by this movie is not such as when released  in  1979, for I’ve seen other war movies such as The Thin Red Line, Saving Private Ryan or Platoon, but seems that it meant a point  of inflection in the way war was depicted  from the point of view of a soldier.  Moreover, Vietnam conflict treatment, US biggest shame up to date and how information was manipulated in order to convince people that American army was winning war, and to justify so many human lives wasted in the jungle.

The way the story is developed from easy and fun up to the bad acid trip Willard ends up living is perfect. Everything starts in an easy and almost relaxing way for everybody, although Willard seems enough dark and affected character since the very beginning, the boat trip seems easy without incidences until tension becomes a key factor in what will come next. When they stop a native boat to check for Charlie’s possible evidences tiredness and secrets are started to affect the crew mood and everything gets out of control. The more they travel up to the river, the thicker the jungle becomes and humidity and suffocating  heat  and those heavy rains become a very important part in creating the feeling that they’re forwarding  to some place like hell. Darkness, dead bodies everywhere, dirt and mud…picture is so horrible you start to realize there were like two different Vietnams and would be impossible to have been “conquered” by Americans.

Without  digging too much into the final part of the movie in which Kurtz and Willard meet, I reckon those minutes as a bad acid trip for everything seems part of an unclear nightmare, and the resolution of the story is tough and impressive. I got shocked even though I already suspected what was going to happen, still it was great. I think I will never forget  the last words repeated by Brando right at the end “the horror…the horror”. Final scene gives me the creeps.

Francis Ford Coppola is specialist in including both established actors together with new promises in the cast of his films. In Apocalypse Now, veteran and more insane  people such as Willard, Kilgore, the hippie photographer (Dennis Hopper) and  Kurtz versus the young and innocent guys with a more patriotic view of the conflict and ignorant about what was really happening such as the virgin South Bronx Clean or Lance, the popular surfer.

I don’t have much technical knowledge about filming, work of cameras…but I’m able to recognize good work, and everything is greatly captured  by cameras. Fighting sequences are amazing and very realistic and it’s easy to find several takes and scenes to remember. Probably I will try to read some info about how everything was filmed, it had to be very intense and tough.

What about the music? Plenty of classics we always listen when watching Vietnam movies but here they really highlight the scenes: Suzie Q, Satisfaction, Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries, Let the Good Times Roll, The End…They all are perfect.

I’m not very enthusiastic about war films but have to admit I enjoy with these ones that in some way make you think a bit, not only about politics but about the proper war and how soldiers co-lived with misery and awful conditions, their feelings and fears…I talk about war movies in which soldiers are human. Apocalypse Now basically deals with Willard’s nightmare, needing Vietnam as a reason to live, but not feeling part of the army or the country, just a killer of a killer. Terrible!

In case you haven’t been able to see it, I strongly recommend you to take a nap before watching it because the story is long and slow, but definitely encourage anybody to watch it. It deserves all good critics received and the status of classic and must see are fair and necessary.

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