Apocalypse Now (1979)


Francis Ford Coppola directs Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando and Laurence Fishburne in this Vietnam war movie following a soldier’s attempt to track down a rogue U.S. colonel in country, to “terminate with extreme prejudice”. 

“The horror. The horror.” This will always suffer from the fact I first watched it way too young and way too immature to in anyway appreciate it. That first time it was an overlong drag. Too little war, no heroic battles, dead eyed characters, no obvious narrative, eventually leading to a grim cul-de-sac where a shadowy tyrant quotes garbled poetry and a bull is slaughtered. Now as I’ve gotten older… via multiple rewatches and Reduxes, the legend of its unique production fleshed out by New Hollywood histories like Easy Riders Raging Bulls and making of documentaries like Hearts of Darkness… I truly love this sprawling beast. In its theatrical form though. The Redux just adds to the mess. The theatrical length captures the chaos and the beauty. The horror, the horror. It is a consistently iconic movie of drifting, feverish moments. Even a striptease USO show (look at those costumes – sexy, cartoonish, metaphorical… they were all just kids playing at war) ends in an misanthropic conflict, pessimistic spectacle.


I love how viscerally real it all is. Coppola built villages in situ only to burn them… all the Hueys and explosions and signal smoke are done in camera, on site, in the shit. You can taste every frame of Apocalypse Now… it tastes ashen and salty and metallic. I love The Doors soundtrack, and the electronic synth wail when there is no Doors soundtrack. I love the compelling vision of war as a purgatory… Heaven is the unseen, forgotten innocence before. Hell is to go deeper into the destruction or worse yet survive, time out, and go home. It was too much movie for a peacetime teenager. The eponymous Jarhead Anthony Swofford recounted how his platoon watched Apocalypse Now before being sent to Iraq in 1990 in order to get excited for war. I would have been watching it that first time right about then. You can get lost in this jungle, in this mindset. I was eleven, maybe twelve. I wanted to get lost in Star Wars, not real wars. This epic movie will always be playing catch-up because of little Bobby Carroll’s first gag inducing bite. Palette undeveloped, tastes unrefined. Too big a dish, a five course meal. I couldn’t finish a Big Mac then. There was no way I was ready. Not ready for the ash, salt and metal.


I love Robert Duvall’s Kilgore, restarting the movie from scratch, re-centering it entirely around his cocksure hubris and then disappearing back off again. “This war’s gonna end someday…”


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