Apocalypse Now Review Essay
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Vietnam was a war fought by the unwillingly, for the ungrateful, led by the unqualified. Apocalypse Now is Coppola’s film based on Heart of Darkness, but set in the Vietnam jungle. The major theme in the novel is the examination of America’s involvement, militarily, in Vietnam. However, like Conrad’s novel, it also shows the potential inherent darkness in all human hearts. Coppola retains the basic structure of Conrad’s novel for his film. As Marlow, in Heart of Darkness, travels up the Congo eventually to find Kurtz, similarly, Captain Willard the protagonist in Coppola’s film travels up the Nung River to meet his Kurtz. Both the Company and the Army want their Kurtzes dead. Kurtz exposes his superior’s real motives and methods and the Army does not want the truth to be known. Willard becomes more perceptive to the moral darkness around him: this causes him to question his real purpose, or goal in what he is doing. Eventually, after killing Kurtz, Willard realizes the Darkness that can be brought out in any man, examined through Kurtz, if society allows amoral values to thrive.
The message in Apocalypse Now is the same message in Heart of Darkness, which is that any man can succumb to his savage desires, he just needs the right environment to allow his temptations to be nurtured and bloom. Apocalypse Now was based on events that had deep meaning and significance for its director. Coppola had just witnessed his generation and the still younger generation fight this bloody conflict nobody wanted to be apart of. He must have seen the wounded and maimed war vets their physical scars obvious, who came to represent the lost generation. Politics at the time forced the Vietnam War upon the American people: men like Kennedy, LBJ, and Nixon were all guilty of this unimaginable crime. The Cold War was in full force and the American government felt it needed to stem the tide of spreading Communism in South East Asia. So, troops were sent to the Democratic Republic of South Vietnam to fight off their northern, Communist enemy. The war was lost before it even started. American politicians were concerned with body counts, kill ratios, and land occupation. Vietnam was about none of these aspects. The Americans dropped napalm, and Agent Orange, they sent B-52 bombers with ten thousand-pound bombs and dropped these on the dense jungles. They deforested entire regions of land and destroyed the farming areas, which were used by the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) as food, but all this did not change the outcome of the war. There was this underlying, mysterious factor that the Americans could never grasp: to grasp this realization was to win the war. Coppola grasped it, the North Vietnamese fought with it, and the Americans could and would never use it: the realization was doing whatever it takes to win. The only way to do this is to go back into the most inner reaches of our primitive being, go back to the suppressed animal instincts inside every person, reach down deep, grab hold of this instinct and let it consume you, let it take over all your emotions and feeling, lose all compassion and love you had as a person and become this savage beast. When this beast is found unleash its fury upon all those who stand in your way. Show no mercy, care nothing for the sick mother ;hack her head off and make her child watch while you dismember her limb by limb ;shoot the elder in their sleep ;allow small children to be crucified and burned upon stakes ;make husbands kill their wives and children their parents ;kill your own brother, uncle, aunt, mother, sister torture then to death and then have no emotion for these people who loved you most. Let your enemies see the carnage you have caused ;allow them to realize what waits in store for them ;make them believe you laugh at death, and mock the reaper by knocking at his door. Only then can the war be won. The darkness in all of us must be brought out and allowed to rampage, controlling us too not care and show no emotion. The North Vietnamese had this ability. The Americans did not. The Americans lost the war in Vietnam!
Kurtz gives an account about being in a village in the North, about their purpose being to inoculate all the villagers against polio. The platoon medic lined the whole village up and gave each person a vaccination in one of their arms. Kurtz talked about feeling warmth for once during the war ;he felt that finally some good had been accomplished since he arrived. The soldiers left the village that day and went off. The next day the same platoon went out on patrol, sightings of NVA troops had been reported in the area of the village. Kurtz recounts how his platoon arrived at the same village, finding in the centre of town all the inoculated arms, who had been vaccinated, just yesterday. The horror that had confronted him became apparent that day. Kurtz realized this war would only be won through total savage methods and nothing less could be expected.
The American Vets, upon seeing this movie, must have realized the stark truth to the whole war in Vietnam. All this son-of-a-bitchery, was staring them in the face. It was mocking the Americans, taunting them with a primitive call to the wild. The American soldier in Vietnam was portrayed through Willard. His constant questioning of the purpose of his mission, his uncertainty of what he would do once he found Kurtz. This all paralleled how the American GI must have felt, he was left wondering why he was in this god-forsaken land. The people here hated him and his was going to give his life for them? I think that more importantly Willard’s questioning paralleled that of the student movement across the United States that was against the war. The most notable, being the Kent State massacre, where four student protester were shot dead by national guardsmen, who believed their issued ammunition were only blanks. Willard’s voice became the questioning American people ;the colours represented the drugs the people used during the hippie movement. The shades of yellow and dusty oranges, the purple haze all these came to suppress the horror the soldiers confronted. Most soldiers were high throughout the war, we scene in Apocalypse Now where Willard arrives at the farthest American outpost on the Nung River, circus music is playing and all the soldiers are acting very odd. Their disorganization and the fact they have no leader add to the emphasis on their purpose not being apparent. The viewer gets a sense of dulling of the senses, the surreal effect it has on someone who is watching what is going on. Nobody is in control at this station, the same way an addict or drug abuser is not in control of his/her body. Willard’s sober reality is in stark contrast to his surroundings. His clear perception of there being no organization, no real purpose mimics the theme of the movie. The darkness had already start to take over this outpost. There were clear signs of it, the way Lance nonchalantly commenting about the incident where seeing two men falling off a bridge to their deaths, how natural that scene was, none of the other characters gave it a second thought. The drugs were used as a medicine to ward off this encroaching disease of human savagery. The GIs felt if their mind could be blocked from this approaching horror maybe it would pass and not stay with them. The prime example of this being untrue is Kurtz. He realized his whole being was savage ;however, he also was prepared to use the last ounce of humanity he had left to cut away and kill this savagery, represented through the Willard’s clear vision.
Apocalyse Now brought to life all the real horrors the Vietnam vets faced, but more importantly it gave them an explanation as to why so many of them faced psychological sickness, upon returning to America. Coppola showed the darkness that came out of this war, expressed through the men who fought it. The movie did a fine job at critiquing the way in which the war was run, with no real objective or purpose being apparent. I think the chose of Coppola to base his outline structure on Conrad’s book, is ingenious. The darkness that was relevant in the 19th century, is still relevant today. Coppola shows this through Kurtz and the Vietnam vets who suffered so many mental problems and the darkness that came out of them in Vietnam.
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