#28 Apocalypse Now

Never get out of the boat. #sixwordmovies

#28 Apocalypse Now (1979)

Francis Ford Coppola’s visceral depiction of the war in Vietnam is equal parts breathtakingly beautiful and appallingly horrific. Captain Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen) is sent back into the jungle to hunt down and terminate a renegade green beret Col. Kurtz (Marlon Brando) using all possible means. Willard’s superior officers explain that in every human heart there is a conflict, a war between good and evil, rational and irrational. And that at some point every man reaches his breaking point. Kurtz has reached his breaking point, has gone insane, committed murder, and must be eliminated. But Kurtz’s inhumanity goes deeper than anyone could have imagined.

Apocalypse Now hits you hard. It’s an example of the powerful sort of storytelling that only the medium of film can achieve. The film makes you feel Vietnam in a way that the written word could never hope to accomplish. The cinematography is unbelievable, so painfully beautiful that it makes you feel guilty; you find yourself wrapped up in the beauty of a shot just before a village is baptized with napalm. The way darkness plays a tangible role in Brando’s scenes, crawling across his face in a literal, visible struggle with the light are so powerful I felt as though my own grasp on sanity was becoming less and less sure.

Perhaps that’s the film’s greatest achievement. The futility and insanity of war is felt throughout every minute of the film’s two and a half hours. The further Willard leads us into the jungle, the further we are lead away from the comfort and familiarity of sanity and civilization, into the very mouth of hell. And once we reach Kurtz’s compound, it truly feels as though there can be no going back. At one point Willard himself muses that home no longer exists, and that return is impossible. He’s speaking for himself, his country, and for we the viewers, because it’s impossible to forget what this film makes you feel. It’s that powerful.

On a much lighter note, it was a pleasant surprise to see Harrison Ford in a small role early on in the movie, and I was absolutely shocked to discover that Laurence Fishburne is the noodly Tyrone “Clean” Miller. He’d have managed the war better if only he could have channeled his latent Morpheus.


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