BP’s Top 100 Challenge #4: Apocalypse Now, by Sarah Brinks
I decided to undertake a movie challenge in 2017. This seemed like a good way to see some classic movies that I have unfortunately never seen. The Battleship Pretension Top 100 list provided such a challenge.
General Sherman got it right when he said, “War is hell.” That could be the tagline for Apocalypse Now. The film captures in horrific accuracy the horrors of the Vietnam War and the complete chaos and mismanagement of it. I like that the only time we actually see the top brass is at the very beginning of the film. After that we are embedded in the chaos with the rest of the soldiers.
The structure of the film works really well. In the beginning we meet Captain Willard played by Martin Sheen. He is clearly a crazy man who has spent too much time in the jungle but as the film goes along and we meet all the other lunatics fighting in the same war, Willard starts to look saner and saner in comparison. More than once on the boat he makes the right call when the other soldiers on the boat simply react without thought or sense. Chef, in particular, is vey reactive.
One thing that I found shocking was the seemingly complete lack of consequences for any of their actions. At one point the soldiers kill a boat full of civilians, and then just drive away. That sequence was very upsetting for a number of reasons but then they really upped the ante and brought a puppy into the mix. I love dogs so much and when they involved a puppy it made me so tense. Ultimately the puppy is lost (probably best for the puppy in the long run) but it did add an extra layer of context when Clean is killed and Lance is more worried about the missing dog. The other part of the film that was extremely upsetting is when they slaughtered an ox on camera. I immediately Googled if they really killed the ox and was horrified to learn that they did. I understand that the ox was already going to be slaughtered and it served a visual purpose for the story but it was awful to watch and I cannot unsee it.
As I have gotten older I have noticed that my tolerance for bullshit has gone way down. Hearing Colonel Kurtz expound his world view made roll my eyes more than once. But then he told the story about the villagers chopping off the arms of their children who had gotten the polio vaccine and how he suddenly realized that an army with that kind of ruthlessness could destroy any enemy, he suddenly made sense to me. He was clearly insane, but I think seeing that kind of senseless horror in the world, your mind would have to find some way to make sense of it. Kurtz’s world view had been shattered and he had to find a way to make the pieces fit together again in order to survive.
The performances in the film are very strong. Martin Sheen is very good in the film. He plays things pretty close to the vest but the voiceover gives us a clear view into his thinking, fears, and insecurities. Marlon Brando delivered a strong performance as Kurtz. It is a tough role because we hear so much about Kurtz and he is praised as a god, so when we see him, he has to be an imposing force. Brando has the screen presence and charisma to fit that part. Dennis Hopper gives one of the best performances as the photojournalist. He is the epitome of a crazy hippy. His constant proclamations and calling everyone “man” really captured the tone of 60’s and 70’s.
I did not watch the Redux so I don’t have an opinion on that. I am typically not a big fan of filmmakers reworking their films later (I’m looking at you George Lucas). But I can also understand the need to change things that you are not happy with. Maybe someday I’ll watch the Redux and see which version I prefer. For now, I am glad that I finally got to see Apocalypse Now.
I’ve decided to rate each film using an arbitrary scale based on the board game Battleship (lowest: Destroyer, Submarine, Cruiser, Battleship, highest: Carrier)
Apocalypse Now ranking: Battleship