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Laramie Movie Scope:
Apocalypse Now: Redux

O, but the horror

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by Patrick Ivers, Film Critic
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Apocalypse Now: Redux – (2001) Francis Ford Coppola’s re-edited and re-mastered version of his original film reimagining Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness set in Cambodia during the Vietnam War. When I first saw the movie more than two decades back, I found the narrative nightmarish, nearly incomprehensible, and I thought that was the whole idea – that war, in particular the Vietnam War, was incomprehensible.

In this version, with 49 minutes of new footage (nearly 3 ½ hours long), Captain Willard’s narrative, as in the novel, becomes comprehensible while the war itself remains incomprehensible. It begins with “The End” by The Doors: “… and all the children are insane.” Capt Willard (Martin Sheen) has returned to Saigon for a mission to find Green Beret Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando), operations officer, special forces, who has become a rogue charged with murder (killing four South Vietnamese intelligence agents, three of them colonels and one a female) and assumed to be insane; Willard is to terminate Kurtz’s command “with extreme prejudice.” Willard listens to a tape of Kurtz saying that the people he killed were double agents; he describes himself as a snail crawling along the edge of a straight razor but surviving. Willard requires the air-mobile cavalry under Col. Kilgore (Robert Duvall) to get his boat and crew upstream. Kilgore is a crazed killer and surfer: How could Kurtz be guilty of anything worse or more insane?

On the boat four Navy sailors have been assigned to take Willard into classified territory – Cambodia. As Willard studies the documents he’s been given, he begins to admire Kurtz, who complained that the military by relying on dilettantes and tourists on one-year tours could not win. “The war is being run by four-star clowns.” Kurtz with his hit-and-run tactics had become feared by the VC. In a letter to his wife and son Kurtz wrote, “I am beyond caring.” As Willard and his crew prepare to leave the last American outpost, someone says: “You’re in the asshole of the world.”

At the French plantation Willard perceives the wisdom of people who actually have something worth fighting and dying for. Willard’s guide into Kurtz’s hellish compound is a wacky journalist (Dennis Hopper) who adores and fears Kurtz. Craziness has turned into evil. But moral men must be capable of performing evil during war to achieve victory. Kurtz tells Willard, “It’s judgment that defeats us.” O but the horror. This movie’s powerful imagery (attack of the tiger with Chef’s admonition “Never get off the boat” and the ritualistic goring the ox) is as indelible and iconic as the game of Russian roulette in The Deer Hunter – war’s contempt for humanity, breakdown of civilization, barbarous behavior. (Martin Sheen’s son Charlie Sheen appears in another film about Vietnam, Platoon.)

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2007 Patrick Ivers. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Patrick Ivers can be reached via e-mail at nora's email address at juno. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)