Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Essentials- Apocalypse Now (1979)

The Essentials-#12

Apocalypse Now (1979)

Throughout all of American history, the war in Vietnam was not one of our shining moments. It was controversial almost from the get-go. It had questionable results and many believe that lots of our soldiers died for another country rather than defending our freedom. It was a brutally confusing, piercing and tragic time in our nation's history. Vietnam was not only confusing for us at the homefront, but also the soldiers overseas doing the fighting.

From the beginning, "Apocalypse Now" is truly haunting. As the film opens we hear "The End" by The Doors and we view American combat helicopters bombing Vietnam territory. Its a violent and eerie scene and the music complements what we are seeing entirely. Then we meet Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen) who has been in Saigon drinking, brooding and destroying his room. Willard is eventually recruited by Colonel Lucas (Harrison Ford) for a mission to neutral Cambodia. Willard must find and kill Col. Walter Kurtz (Marlon Brando), Kurtz was a highly decorated soldier before he went insane, moved to Cambodia, and created his very own guerrilla army. 

Willard and a small group of soldiers (including Lawrence Fishburne in one of his very first acting roles) set sail and look for Kurtz. Their adventures along the way (if I can even use the word adventures) pretty much sum up many of the negative attitudes toward the Vietnam War. Willard and his men attend a party for the soldiers with which Playboy models are invited. The party goes disastrously wrong. There is also lots of run-ins with Vietnamese soldiers and lots of drug influence. One of the best things about "Apocalypse Now" is how relentless it is with showing how raw the war was. And how deeply the American soldiers were affected by it.

The audience really feels the affects once Willard meets Kurtz and his henchmen photographer (Dennis Hopper). It is quite the site, showing old ruins littered with several human heads. Its a chaotic, creepy scene and its brought to astounding life by Brando, Hopper and Sheen.

This is definitely some of the very best work by both Martin Sheen and Marlon Brando. Both actors paint a great portrait of two troubled men haunted by their time out in Vietnam. One man maybe more lost than the other, but there is no doubt that each of these individuals is missing something vital. These actors bring these broken men to life, showcasing why we love both of them in the first place. Dennis Hopper as the quirky, crazy photographer is equally moving and piercing. Hopper is great in these types of roles and he does a great job like always.

The film is also so effective because it shows us the hardships of the soldiers. It shows how easy it was to lose yourself in the battle and the brutality. I did an independent study at my college about the Vietnam war, and some truly awful and heartbreaking acts really did occur during this time. I applaud director Francis Ford Coppola (who also directed The Godfather trilogy) lots of credit for never turning back and creating something truly transcendent. 

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