In a time when the United States was still reeling from the effects of the U.S.-Vietnam Conflict, Apocalypse Now offered a terrifying perspective from the U.S. soldiers whose fates seemed as dark as the Viet Cong jungle. Instead of keeping the blackness of the Vietnam Conflict at bay, director Francis Ford Coppola chose to expose the true horrors these soldiers experienced, causing an uproar against both the appalling viewpoint on humanity and the atrocities these men faced and performed.
Loosely based off Joseph Conrad’s novel, Heart of Darkness, Apocalypse Now follows Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) as he is sent on a mission to assassinate an insane colonel named Kurtz (Marlon Brando) after he made himself a God in the eyes of a local tribe as he begins to carry out counter-insurgency operations against the NLF in 1968. To do this, Willard must travel up the river from Vietnam to Cambodia with a team consisting of Chef, Lance B. Johnson, Clean, and Chief Phillips. Each of these men has experienced their own tragedies, causing them to rely on one other for sanity while, at the same time, making sure to not become attached, as each day on the river brings fresh danger from both man and nature.
The filming of Apocalypse Now itself was its own spiral into despair and loss of hope. The disparaging atmosphere of the movie transferred to everyone involved in its creation. Coppola threatened suicide several times, and the majority of the cast was either high, drunk, or both for much of the movie, which took 15 months more to film than expected and a full 3 years to edit. Whether this tension was caused by the content of the film or by the cast and crew themselves, I cannot say. However, it can be said that this tension is evident within the movie, creating an eerie effect of stark realism in every scene.
The true terror of this movie, which pays homage to Heart of Darkness, is that where there is no human enemy to cause harm mentally and physically, nature itself will always be present. The foreboding feeling the jungle lends is present throughout Willard’s mission, especially as he and his team travels upstream by boat. At one part of the movie, Chef and Willard are chased out of the jungle by a tiger, cementing the mantra to “never leave the boat.” There is no safety, only survival until the next day. However, once Willard reaches Kurtz’s kingdom of poetry, death, and insanity, time seems to vanish. It isn’t until Willard kills Kurtz and becomes the next leader of the tribe does he finally feel in control of his own life.
This feeling of losing control is present throughout the entire movie, giving the audience an idea that nothing is ever safe or certain. There is no rest or escape. Humanity is doomed, and is rotting itself by its own actions. Apocalypse Now proves to the audience that there is no mercy, both in the Vietnam Conflict and in every day life. Though hope is present, it is always darkened and never pure. Audiences worldwide have seen universal truth in this movie, and thus it has changed how we view the world as a whole. This is because this movie has taught us something about us all: that we are the same, and that we are darker than we would ever like to believe.
For more facts and background information on Apocalypse Now, please visit http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0078788/?ref_=tttr_tr_tt