By: Brianna Studer
Francis Ford Coppola spends 31 million dollars directing and producing Apocalypse Now, and it is worth every penny. Coppola’s opening scene is both riveting and world changing as he overlaps shots of Captain Willard, played by Martin Sheen, lying in bed with images of an exploding jungle. This new and exciting technique is perfect for the beginning of this film because it shows the audience that although Captain Willard is back from war, his mind never left it. So many soldiers face this after experiencing violence and returning home, and is a great depiction of how real and hard it is to return to civilian life. This also sets the film up to be very surreal and dreamlike, as Coppola juxtaposes the real and unreal experiences faced by these soldiers. Captain Willard is saved from the civilian world by being sent on a mission to assassinate Colonel Kurtz, played by the famous Marlon Brando, who has become a crazy cult-like leader in the jungle of Cambodia.
Captain Willard and a team of four other men make their way through battle torn Vietnam in search of Colonel Kurtz. Coppola shows beautiful landscapes juxtaposed with battle. In one specific scene, he shows the birds eye view of a rainbow in the mist of war then immediately follows with fire and explosions. The best part of the film is when Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore, played by Robert Duvall, leads a squad of helicopters through the country. Lt. Colonel. Kilgore blasts Richard Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” to tell the Vietnamese soldiers they’re coming and to radiate fear into their camps. During this, Coppola juxtaposes the mean fighting machines carrying guns, bombs, and surf boards, with soldiers freaking out about the upcoming battle, which is slightly comedic and absurd.
With all this realism that Coppola exhibits, he also shows the terrible things battle and blood does to the mind when he shows a soldier drop acid in mid-battle. Through this, Coppola shows the beauty that this hippy sees in his drugged-out mind in this place referred to as “the asshole of the world.” This soldier is literally hallucinating on the battle lines between the U.S. and the enemy. This violence is making the soldiers crazy, and the only way you can see any beauty is by dropping acid and pretending it all isn’t real.
Eventually Captain Willard finds Colonel Kurtz and his cult like followers, but struggles with a battle within on killing him. Colonel Kurtz is always shown on camera cast in a shadow as he talks about embracing the beauty in horror and terror. This intrigues the audience and makes us want to learn more about this mysterious cult leader, all while Coppola leaves the audience wanting more.
Apocalypse Now disguises a film about the human mind and what happens to it when you face such violence and hardships, as a war movie. Coppola makes the audience think about whether it was worth all this death to assassinate one rogue soldier not obeying the military’s authority. This film is a very subtle argument against war and recreates the hell of battle with the emotions and faces of the actors. Apocalypse Now is like a bad dream you just can’t wake up from. However, Coppola does such a great job directing this film that maybe you don’t even want to wake up from it.