Apocalypse Now – Theme Development
I’ve looked into the heart of darkness
Where the blood –red journey ends
When you’ve faced the heart of darkness
Even your soul begins to bend…《现代启示录》-主题发展
The film Apocalypse Now was created in 1979 by producer Francis Ford Copola. It was based upon the book by Joseph Conrad “Heart of Darkness”. The starring actors were Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall and others. The book tells the readers about the trip up a river in African jungles. The film was nominated for eight awards: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Robert Duvall), Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Art Direction/Set Decoration, and Best Film Editing, but the film won only two well-deserved awards: Best Cinematography (Vittorio Storaro) and Best Sound.
The story is certainly devoted to the Vietnam War, but on the other hand this is a trip into the deepest corridors of human sole, of human psyche. The main aim of creating this film Coppola himself described as a wish to: “create a film experience that would give its audience a sense of the horror, the madness, the sensuousness and the moral dilemma of the Vietnam War” (1). He actually managed to do it, to put the audience into the atmosphere of madness and horrors of the war, into the experiential reality of Vietnam War. This was done through sounds, usage of original materials and scenes, we hear and see the hallucinatory images of the brutal war in Vietnam. The end of the movie was baffling and ambiguous.
We do not see the traditionary titles at the beginning of the movie, the title of the movie is presented as graffiti at the end of the film.
When we meet the Army captain – Benjamin Willard, he is isolated in his hotel room, near him we see a pile of bills, his wallet, a woman’s picture, an opened letter and envelope, cigarettes, a glass and Cordon Bleu bottle, and a gun lying near his pillow. He seems to lose the connection with the outside world and be concentrated only on memories of the war. He is himself afraid that he is getting crazy, he realizes that he is waiting for a mission and wants to get back to Vietnam. He mission was to find and kill Colonel Kurtz, who was somewhere in the jungles fighting with his own army. But as long as Captain Willard was going through the jungles the more he was feeling the power of insanity coming over him and he was becoming more and more like the person he was supposed to kill. Kurtz was not simply an officer, he was the leader of some native tribe, he was guilty in executing some Vietnamese agents, and he considered them to be double agents. As General states Walter Kurtz reaching his breaking point had gone insane. It was no wonder as the war mixed up all the ideals, powers, morality and military practice, human minds lost the ability to differentiate between good and bad and rational and irrational was in a mess.
When Willard receives his mission at last, he remembers about other people he had to kill and thinks what he would do when he find this one. And his mission turns into a trip into madness and hallucinations. Actually the whole movie shows us how Captain Willard followed the path of Kurtz which consisted of madness and despair.
One of the crucial moments at the end of the movie is the situation with photojournalist, who found the cap of Kurtz and stayed there as a witness, he actually played the role of balancing figure between Kurtz and Willard.
There are a lot of moments in the movie, when the audience is stunned because of their deep emotional shock. One of the best war scenes is the helicopter attack in the Vietnam village and the famous phrase: “I love the smell of the napalm in the morning”.
It is hard to watch the scene when a patrol boat stops a fishing boat with a family, one of the soldiers opens fire when a small girl suddenly start to run after her puppy. As a result the whole family is shot, only the mother seems to stay alive, but Captain Willard doesn’t want to break his mission and instead of taking her to some medical treatment he simply kills her.
Another remarkable scene is when one of the members f the crew of the captain Willard states that they should go to the forest to look for mangos. Willard being not able to stop him goes after him, and they are shown as: “little human specks at the foot of towering trees… this moment shows how nature dwarfs us….” (1).
Most people agree that “Apocalypse Now” is the best Vietnam film. It doesn’t simply present the historical facts about the war, it actually leads to the truths people would prefer not to reveal and leads to the deep dark places of human souls, of human hearts. This film was also called one of the key films of the century. We could call this film a psychological one as well, the film presents man’s unconscious mind and what contradictions and complexities are inside of it, all the problems connected with communicating them to the outside world.
The two main characters are actually closely connected to each other and the culminating experience of the journey is the realization of this psychological bond. They both represent the moral and other aspects of each other’s psyches, most of these aspects come as results of the jungle trip and the effects upon the behavior. Both characters are affected by the wilderness, especially Kurtz – we are told it “echoed loudly within him because he was hollow at the core” (1). So, we can not state that the only main theme of the film is the war itself, this theme is extended through the presentations of human relations, feelings, emotions, moral values during war. There could hardly be a person who would not be influenced by the atmosphere presented in the movie, who would be able to easily forget the scenes and the sounds seen and heard.
1. The Film “Apocalypse Now”, Vladimir Zelevinsky, 2002,pp. 1-4