Sunday, 22 March 2015

Apocalypse Now (1979) The horror...the horror

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
153 Minutes (Theatrical) 200 Minutes (Redux)
I think at this point this film has been analysed, critiqued and reviewed fully. However, these are my thoughts and I wish to express them. I had watched this about 3 years ago, in the Redux version, and even the harrowing final moments didn’t seem to stick with me as they did when watching the theatrical cut second time round. On that first viewing, I wasn't big on the film and it took me so long to watch it again. I am glad I did. I now realise that it is possible the greatest war film ever made, and one that not only explores the insanity of war, but insight to the human psyche. Francis Ford Coppola had a great run of films in the 70s, which seem to shadow the rest of his career. This film is a nightmare of hellish violence. Note: Before I continue, there will be several spoilers, as I will go in-depth about scenes in the film.

To begin with, the Vietnam War, among many wars has been subjected to film portrayals, representations and critiques. I know only the bare bones of this war, but it is clear that it was a significant event in history. With a rise of counter culture around the time (1967-1972 primarily), the war created deep controversy with the American people, and a lot was changing.

What Apocalypse Now does is shows us the true cruelty and madness of this War. With everything, we see we can only imagine the actual war was worse. In the early scenes, we witness air bombing, with the American soldiers making a theatrical entrance with Rise of the Valkyries by Wagner playing loudly as they drop the bombs. The use of music in the film is effective, adding to the insanity of war, by using powerful classical music over shots of death and destruction. The film also has a unique musical score, which sounds like synthesisers. Something about the music fits so well to the jungle atmosphere the characters journey through, which captures that sense of entrapment and imprisonment.

The jungles and rivers Willard and his men travel through represent the primal change nature seems to bring to man.  Paranoia and terror heightens in a scene involving a tiger, which to me was one of the film’s scariest moments. It is in this scene we see man VS nature. “Never get out of the boat,” they say, running in fright. The jungle is a dangerous place. Here we were not seeing ‘the enemy’ as the threat, but nature itself. This also becomes apparent with the mission Willard is on as he seeks to find a colonel who has simply went nuts (Kurtz). He was consumed by the war and its madness, which also acts as a metaphor for the visceral and spiritual toll the jungle takes on people. In the scene where Willard and his men stop a boat of people in suspicion, we can see the jungle’s paranoia-filling effect. In a sudden reaction to a woman not wanting one of the men look inside the yellow barrel she sat upon, it ends with the innocent people on the boat being massacred. We know that all that was in the barrel was a little innocent puppy. This alone can stand as metaphor for the result of fear, and a critique of the effect war has on one’s mind.

It is the way in which Apocalypse Now has depicted Vietnam and war that makes it such a success today. All of this is helped with the stunning cinematography and editing truly reinforcing the natural setting the film takes place. With the splendour and exoticness of the jungle, films like Night and Fog come to mind, which is a documentary focusing on the Holocaust. It asks the question that how in such quiet and beautiful areas of the world, great evil and ruin can take place.

When we enter what I would call the film’s final act, we now approach the man who we have conjured an idea of in our head: Colonel Kurtz. It goes beyond what you think this man might me like, thanks to a powerful resonating performance from Marlon Brando. This is made even more surprising, with him turning up 100 pounds overweight (meanwhile Coppola lost 100 during filming), late and not knowing his lines. Regardless, his presence, which only takes up 15 minutes of total screen time, and is easily one of the most unforgettable performances. When he mutters in his last breath “The horror…the horror”, I felt myself chilled to the bone. Never have those two words sounded so frightening and doom impending. What we are seeing in this dying man is the aftermath of war. He has been driven to total inner-chaos, and these two words get to the core of that result.

The direction and production value of the film are astounding. With over 250 days of filming it is amazing to comprehend, someone could control a film of such a scale for such a long time. He stays with his vision, and the film’s flow is perfect (in the Theatrical cut at least). You go on a journey through the jungle, and thanks to the brilliant camerawork, editing and effects you feel like you are right on that boat with Willard. When the film closes, we are left looking at a faced statue as it rains. With the weather in mind, this ending gives a sense of dread and that the insanity hasn’t stopped yet. It is hard to imagine of a way to end this story, and I think ending with that shot wraps up the vision of the film the best way it could. Apocalypse Now is riddled with symbolism; metaphors and sub-text, which makes me, look forward to future viewings. 




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