The Vietnam War had, in one way or another, been the defining issue politically and morally for an entire generation and therefore for filmmakers at the time an irresistible subject. In the 1980’s there were many excellent films that dealt with war – Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Born On The Fourth of July to name a few. However, at that point almost 10 years had passed since the war’s end. In a large part society had adapted, forgotten, and otherwise had moved from it.
In 1978 and 1979, just a few years after the war ended in 1975, The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now were released. Both films dealt with the war but from different perspectives.
The Deer Hunter focused on the personal cost to the soldiers who fought as they put their lives back together upon their return home.
Apocalypse Now on the other hand was an acid trip into the madness of war seeking answers to questions nobody was asking.
At times epic in size with a synthesizer score imparting a degree of coldness to the rich colors of the jungle. This film dances between the very personal journey of Martin Sheen’s broken assassin and the insanity embodied so well by Robert Duvall’s Lieutenant Colonel William “Bill” Kilgore. For me Duvall’s character embodies the heart of this film, at all appearances he’s a monster loved by his men. Gracious one minute and a killer the next. Kilgore has accepted the truth he is fighting a war no one wants to win. When he meets Captain Willard (Sheen) he understands what waits for him at the end of his mission. He was sent to terminate Colonel Kurtz’s command for disobeying orders. What he found was a man driven mad through the contradictions of an insane paradox. Willard’s real mission was the termination of the hypocrisy that America created and supported for 19 years.
I remember watching this in my early 20’s, all I knew of the war was what I saw on network television or print media so Apocalypse Now was a revelation for me. It opened my mind to truths about that war, war in general and how the world actually works. For someone starting out his life at an age that many had their lives ended this was meaningful. Willard’s journey into the unknown on a river boat journey to the inevitable has never left me. Be Willard or be Kilgore, be aware or ignore the truth. In the end Kurtz is always waiting. For all of its flaws Apocalypse Now wore its heart of darkness on its sleeve.
Raconteur of useless trivia, most awkward hugger possible. I co-founded this. Pauline Kael stole the name of my upcoming autobiography…