Apocalypse Now (1979) – Francis Ford Coppola

The brilliant, Vietnam epic, an update on the Joseph Conrad novel Heart of Darkness, is the next stop in the War genre as I continue my cinematic journey with the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book.

The story behind the film is almost as incredible as the film itself. Boasting a cast that includes Martin Sheen, in a career defining role, Marlon Brando, Dennis Hopper, Laurence Fishburne (who was fourteen when production started), Robert Duvall, Scott Glenn, and a blink and you miss it cameo by Harrison Ford.

Captain Benjamin Willard (Sheen) is given one last mission while serving in Vietnam. He is commissioned to terminate with extreme prejudice one Colonel Kurtz (Brando) who has taken his men and gone rogue, having crossed into Cambodia and driving unauthorised attacks on the Viet Cong.

Catching a ride on a patrol boat, he heads north finding himself caught up not only in the madness of the war, but the increasing madness of some of the men who have fought it.

An intense and sprawling epic that delves into the darkest heart of the jungle, and of man, the film is an overwhelming experience that to this day is exhilarating, terrifying, and a cinematic tour de force.

The juxtaposition of images, the layering of same, the omnipresent sound of the jungle… the film is beautiful to watch. Coppola has grown on record as saying the film isn’t about Vietnam, it is Vietnam.


There is the violence that men do to one another, the sheer insanity of wartime, and of course, the legendary making of the film would definitely make it its own cinematic version of the Vietnam conflict.

It’s almost a Vietnam war road movie, as the boat continues north and encounters all manner of American forces caught up in events.

A staggering sixteen month shoot coalesced into a triumph of film that won two Oscars (Sound and Cinematography) as well as being nominated for six more – Editing, Art Direction, Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (for Duvall), Picture and Director.

A powerful, and overpowering film, Apocalypse Now is an experiential event filled with iconic images, quotes, and moments. It lays out the souls of men, and the mires it in the waste of war, stirring it and then calling the results human.

This film perfectly encapsulates Vietnam. I came across it at a time when my interest in the conflict was at an all time high in my teens, and teacher was kind enough to lend my their copy of the film. I remember settling in for the film (I was babysitting, and the child was already in bed), and just being wowed by the experience.

It would be a number of years later before I saw it as it was meant to be seen, in widescreen, on a large screen, in the Redux version, but even that experience remains with me, and I can recall the details of watching it.

The film stays with you.


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