How to begin? Apocalypse Now is the most powerful anti-war statement expressed in film, a hallucinogenic and epic nightmare recreation of the Vietnam War that not only paints the screen like Kurosawa, but tells a great story.
“Heart of Darkness” might also be a great story — I haven’t read it. I do know however, that once applied to the Vietnam War by John Milius, it becomes a tour through hell in vivid detail and shocking encounters. The violence, confusion, chaos, and evil depicted are haunting — but this is common knowledge.
So the question isn’t ‘how to begin?’ but how to begin as others haven’t, and I don’t have the answer. I only know that watching the film phases out that kind of context, leaving me to be absorbed into this alien realm. With those final lines, I’m back, and ideas about story and theme come rushing in.
It’s a mission movie, a setup not unlike most war films. But the mission itself — the assassination of a rogue American officer — is unexpected and sets the right mood. Nothing about this is right, and the descent through the river, through surfing murderers and tiger surprises, is perfectly impressionistic of a soldier coming apart at the seams.
The scale of Apocalypse Now is also impressive, and not something I’m used to seeing in a pre-CG age. Helicopters fly in swarms, but at the top third of the frame as we track along and follow soldiers — I don’t know how Coppolla coordinated all of this (I haven’t seen Hearts of Darkness either), but this is the one time I’ll say and truly mean that they don’t make movies like they used to.
Specifically, nobody makes movies like this, not even the godfather himself.