APOCALYPSE NOW: REDUX – 1979/2001
DIRECTOR: Francis Ford Coppola
May Contain Spoilers!
Often referred to as a definitive exploration of American’s involvement in Vietnam, Apocalypse Now is a film with numerous versions and therefore numerous interpretations. In 1979, Coppola released his Vietnam epic, following Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) on his journey deep into the country to locate an insane Special Forces Colonel Walter Kurtz (Marlon Brando). Kurtz, only seen in person in the final act, as he is supposedly a threat to U.S. operations and Sheen is sent to assassinate him.
On his journey, Sheen is exposed to various bizarre and horrific events, including Robert Duval’s surfing Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore, who famously “loves the smell of napalm in the morning”, Playboy Bunnies, leaderless platoons fighting to the death and the murder of civilians.
The crux of this film’s success has been its intellectual and existential interpretations, seen as a masterpiece of anti-war propaganda by some and pro-war by others, there is no doubt what so ever that this is a beautifully shot film, a visual masterwork to sure. But how does it hold up in the narrative sense? Well, I have never been able to get behind this film as many have. Maybe it’s because I was a child of Oliver Stone’s, Platoon (1986) and the battle scenes, whilst epic and shot with a balletic style, seem to be tinged with a sense of art, rather than realism.
Whilst at the same time, the film seems to be toting itself as a realist take on the conflict. It can’t be. I can only interpret this film as a dream like experience, with a heightened sense of reality and metaphors taking the lead, looking at the conflict through our eyes at the absurdity of conflict and the damage done to those who are asked to fight it, often in our name.
This was embodied by Willard’s inability to re-assimilate back into normal life when not serving, the mix of troops in the PBR and the almost everyone westerner that they encounter. The problem is that I don’t want to spend two and half hours trying to interpret the inner meaning of a movie, to exclusion of enjoying what’s on the screen. I feel that after several more viewings, I may well begin to understand this film, but it’s just too complex in its existentialism. I like this sort of stuff to an extent but sometimes a little soul gazing goes along way but here it’s just layered on and on and on, until it’s so thick with its simple message that war is hell, that you can lose any real sense as what to is actually going on, let alone whether this is plausible?
The Redux version released in 2001 restored 49 minutes of footage to the film, increasing the running time to over three hours and restoring several notable plot-lines, not least one set on a French plantation, which was seen to slow the pacing down too much. The Theatrical Cut is the best version, long but not too long. There’s only so much you can say on this subject before you begin top repeat yourself. In other words, we get it, in spite of Coppola’s best efforts to over sell it!
This is probably a must see film but beware, it’s an acquired taste and though it is an expertly directed and composed movie, it can be a full-time job taking it in and will no doubt require several viewings before you can even begin to absorb this plot fully.