September 08, 2009

Apocalypse Now: War and Madness

Who is mad? Kurtz, Willard, Kilgore? All three of them? The Americans in general, probably?

You may know or not know how dear is to me everything that touches Cambodia and Vietnam. A film like Apocalypse Now could only have a deep impact on me.

Until last week, Apocalypse Now had been a gap in my culture. I finally dived into it - cautiously, at home, over four days, ingesting this masterpiece bite by bite.

I had indeed strong but mixed feelings about it.

I couldn't relate fully to the visual depiction of the settings (the glance of Saigon through the window of Willard's room, the French plantation, Kurtz's stronghold): they felt almost right... And the story built up in the movie about Kurtz was convincing until the encounter itself: I couldn't relate to Marlon Brando as Kurtz nor to his army which made me think of Willy Wonka's army of Oompa-Loompas in Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory...

But I thought the first two hours of the film were outstanding, building an inimitable atmosphere of palpable absurdity and madness right from the first scene, building two fascinating characters: Martin Sheen's breathtaking interpretation of Willard and Kurtz's character built up in the shadow, through Willard's fantasies and a couple of sentences from his voice in an audio recording.

The depiction of the war's horrors gave me shrills in the spine. I couldn't always stand the intensity of the horror and had to stop several times because of it... But beyond the constant horror, the theme is the absurdity of the war which explains the desperation of the soldiers and the madness of their officers (or does it stem from it?) The scene in the French plantation was critical from this point of view, because of the reflection on the war which it allows at that point in the movie.

I'll let you judge from this few lines:

              How long can you possibly stay

              We stay forever.

              No, no, I mean, why don't you go
              back home to France?

              This is our home, Captain.

              Sooner or later, you're --


                           OLD UNCLE
               And now you take French place, and
               the Viet Minh fight you.  And what
               can you do?  Nothing.  Absolutely

               The Vietnamese are very intelligent.
               You never know what they think.
               The Russian ones who help them,
               "Come and give us their money, we
               are all Communists.  Chinese, come
               and give us guns.  We're all
               brothers." They hate the Chinese!
               Maybe they hate the American less
               that the Russian and the Chinese.
               If tomorrow the Vietnamese are
               Communists, they will be Vietnamese
               Communists.  And this is something
               that you will never understand,
               you American.

                           OLD UNCLE
               I don't know.  Maybe in the future
               we can make something with the
               Viet Minh.

               Don't you understand?  The V.C.
               say, "Go away!  Go away!"  That's
               finish for all the white people in
               Indochina.  If you're French,
               American, that's all the same.
               "Go!"  They want to forget you.
               Look, Captain --

               See, Captain, when my grandfather
               and my uncle's father came here,
               there was nothing.  Nothing.  The
               Vietnamese were nothing.  So we
               worked hard, very hard, and brought
               the rubber from Brazil, and then
               plant it here.  We took the
               Vietnamese, work with them, make
               something, something out of nothing.
               So when you ask me why we want to
               stay here, Captain, we want to
               stay here because it's ours, it
               belongs to us.  It keeps out family
               together.  We fight for that!
               While you Americans, you are
               fighting for the biggest nothing
               in history.  I'm sorry Captain.  I
               will see if your men needs any
               help to repair your boat, so that
               you can go on with your war.  Good
               night, Roxanne.

Transcript courtesy of


vlad said...

hopefully you watched the Redux version because in the first original version cut the plantation sequence that is ESSENTIAL (nevertheless this version was already a masterpiece...)

now you'll have to view it again in one time; for me it seems like a sacrilege to view it cut in pieces...

Joseph said...

I saw the Redux version indeed and I agree with you fully: the French plantation scene is ESSENTIAL!

I do have to watch it again, in one time...

Anonymous said...

I could sustain this movie only one time, although I consider it as one of the most impressive anti-war movies of all times.