Apocalype Now Overview And Themes Essay, Research Paper
Apocalypse Now is movie about a Vietnam soldier with a checkered past, and who goes on an Odyssey like mission to terminate with extreme prejudice an American army Colonel. Who has gone insane in the Cambodian jungle. It is not a movie that glorifies the struggle between righteous American s democracy versus an evil communist Vietnamese. In Apocalypse Now the line between good and evil is blurred. Apocalypse is a reflection of the anti-imperial and the general anti-war movement of the era, and that is reflected in others movies like Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, and Deer Hunter all display the unsavory side of the Vietnam War. The anti-war feelings displayed in these movies are results of American s negative stigma attached to the war, because of stories of people like John Kelley. There are no undertones that depict romanticized ideals of war in which there are clear-cut heroes and villains like in the World War Two epic Patton. Almost every scene explains more reasons why the Vietnam War was a mistake and questions whether Americans really were the good guys.
This film isn t about the Vietnam War. It is the Vietnam War, Francis Ford Coppola in Heart of Darkness: A Filmmaker s Apocalypse. The amount of chaos that circulated through out the filming rivaled that of even the War. For example the soldiers who abused drugs and alcohol and were called juicers and heads, the filming cast had its share of drug addicts.
We were doing speed and alcohol and marijuana. We were bad. – Sam Bottoms who played Lance (quoted from Heart of Darkness)
I was so drunk I could hardly stand up, said Martin Sheen on the filming of the opening scene in which he confronts his inner demons, while The End by Jim Morrison pulsates in the background. Like the Vietnam War, the filming process had its share of casualties. Harvey Keitel who was originally slated to play Captain Willard, was fired after production had already begun and replaced by Martin Sheen. Martin Sheen, single handedly, almost ended the production process by suffering a massive heart attack. Just like a the Tet Offensive was a turning point in the War, the typhoon that shook the Philippines, was a turning point in the filming, and destroyed most of the sets including Kurtz s compound adding to the already low morale of the crew. American newspapers headlines read Apocalypse When. Though the Tet Offensive was a turning point against the Americans struggle, the typhoon was a blessing in disguise. Everyone returned home for three weeks and returned with a renewed determination to get the film finished. After a year of filming and twenty million dollars over budget (statistic from Heart of Darkness), it was finally complete.
Three overall themes emerge that reflect the anti-war sentiment that the movie attempts to convey; the references to the frontier war against the Indians, and the depicting of Americans as assassins.
Francis Ford Coppola purposely makes correlations between the frontier war against the Indians and the Vietnam War because they are both black eyes on America s foreign nation policy record. The Indian/Vietnam comparisons are metaphorically made through; Captain Kilgore s hat and the playboy bunnies each dressed as a cowboy, cavalry, and an Indian. The link between the two wars is apparent. Kennedy, Nixon, nor Johnson ever declared war even though 58,000 American s died (statistic from CaFC) and battles Wounded Knee and Little Big Horn against the Indians were considered police actions.
In Apocalypse, Americans are seen as assassins, not as soldiers making the world a safer place for democracy as shown in movies about World War Two during the 40s and 50s. The scene where the soldiers open fire on an innocent Vietnamese vessel killing all on the ship and even the woman shows the loss of innocence of American soldiers. All aboard were innocent and were killed without reason. This is a reference to Lt. John Kelly and others like him who ordered the execution of innocent Vietnamese civilians who had no role in the war. The final scene where Captain Willard kills Colonel Kurtz is not a heroic showdown between the hero and villain. It is shown simultaneously with an execution of a cow and is intended to be just that, an execution, not a showdown.
The music played in the opening scene The End was an ironic play on both the war and movie, because when the cameras stopped rolling and the soldiers stopped fighting, nothing had been solved. Americans withdrew from Vietnam and Willard killed Kurtz, and physically, neither had lost the battle. In reality though, both had their spirits broken. American soldiers returned home after risking their lives for their country, and were greeted as baby killers and women killers, not as heroes, and Apocalypse reluctantly displays the baby killer mentality associated with the war.