The solemn lyrics of The Doors’ “The End” opens alongside the sight of mass destruction and Apocalypse Now. It introduces the audience to the horrors of war. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, Apocalypse Now depicts a soldier’s need to embark back into the jungle.
The storyline is a Vietnam War based epic that follows Captain Willard’s (Martin Sheen) mission of locating and assassinating fellow American Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando). Previously lauded for his heroic actions and an extensive military career, Kurtz eventually went hysterical and abandoned his duties to become a spiritual leader of a Cambodian tribe.
It becomes apparent that the film is not just meant to be a re-enactment of the Vietnam War. In fact, Willard’s journey delves into the descent into one’s own madness. In order to complete his mission, Willard coldly kills an innocent civilian for making risky decisions that resulted in the death of his fellow soldiers . These actions raise the question: has he gone mad just like Kurtz? The psychological battle that Willard goes through is what makes the film so intriguing: You are witnessing not just a soldier completing a mission, but a human trying to make sense of the world and where he stands.
The sweeping cinematography and abrasive supporting characters makes the film an engrossing view. There is a famous scene in which a squad of helicopters travel to a village with “Ride of the Valkyries” playing. It is riveting to watch, yet also horrifying, because of the known death and destruction that will soon follow. One of the most memorable characters, yet only appearing for a few scenes, is the boisterous and surfing obsessed Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore (Robert Duvall) who assists Willard’s travel. Kilgore fiercely proclaims his love of war and destruction. His orders to have a few of his men go into the water and surf whilst battles are still waging is bizarre, and because of it, also memorable.
The production of Apocalypse Now can possibly be considered even more interesting than the film itself. Filming spanned 200 days while a typhoon destroyed all the sets during production. Coppola did not have an ending to the film before the start of production. Sheen replaced the previous lead actor who had already worked on the film for weeks. The obstacles during the creation of this film makes its completion a feat.
Apocalypse Now is an intense and thought-provoking display of one soldier’s physical and psychological mission through the jungle, and the trials and tribulations that accompany it under the backdrop of war.