Arts and Culture Film

Classic Film Highlight: Apocalypse Now

Apocalypse Now. Even the title of this beautifully shot and directed 1979 war film carries the societal weight of its subject matter, the Vietnam War. Hellish jungle landscapes, burnt blood stained beaches, and exhausted bullet ridden boats set the stage for the story of Captain Benjamin L. Willard (played by Martin Sheen), a stoic, battle hardened veteran called from retirement to carry out one last mission. He is no stranger to this alien world of war, and acts as our guide as he navigates treacherous waters to end the reign of a rogue soldier turned cult leader. 

Adapted from the novel Hearts of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, legendary director Director Francis Ford Coppola reinvents the war film by staying true to the book in his depiction of Captain Willard’s descent into utter chaos and depravity. From the very first scene you will be confronted with stunningly haunting visuals as the lush Vietnamese jungle erupts into a fiery explosion of shrapnel and agent orange. The film’s lighting is expertly wielded, painting each set in an array of colors that both feel genuine and otherworldly, as if the place being depicted is real, but exists entirely on another planet. 

And on this familiar planet you will find characters that exemplify different perspectives on the black hole that is war. The mama’s boy who’s only wish is to return home, the brilliant surfer whose career was cut short by a draft letter, every member of Willard’s crew has something to say about the circumstance they find themselves in. Dark comedy is peppered throughout the film, offering minor relief from the gunfire and explosions. The general who attacks a group of civilians just because their beach has good surfing waves, or the leaderless soldiers fighting aimlessly like a chicken with its head cut off, these are only a glimpse of the twisted situations that will make you double take and think “surely this kind of thing doesn’t actually happen,” when the true realities of war are much harder to stomach. 

Apocalypse Now is one of those rare films that wholly respects the time and intelligence of its audience. Every scene is dense with commentary and atmosphere, allowing you to peer through the minds of each character and look at the world through their eyes. It is beautifully directed, brilliantly acted, and serves as a reminder to the world of the atrocities people are capable of when thrust into a world that lacks humanity.