This is The End
Jim Morrison’s lyrics are the first words you hear in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 seminal and epic psychological Vietnam war film Apocalypse Now as US helicopters strike in the jungle with a napalm attack whilst Captain Willard hallucinates in a drunken haze in his Saigon hotel.
Willard is then dragged from his drunken stupor to a briefing at headquarters in Nha Trang where he is ordered on a mission to assassinate one of his own officers, Colonel Kurtz, who he is told has gone renegade with his own local army and is presumed to be insane. The briefing climaxes with one of the most chilling lines in movie history “Terminate with extreme prejudice”.
And now the film has been set for one of the most mesmerising journeys into a modern day hell ever committed on film as Willard joins a US navy river patrol boat which is to navigate up the Nung River to Kurtz’s outpost.
The movie is loosely based on Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart Of Darkness written back in 1899 and despite, or because of, the many difficulties experienced during the filming, it has entered into movie folk-lore with original leading man Harvey Keitel being replaced by Martin Sheen who then had a breakdown and a heart attack on location; Marlon Brando turning up on the set grossly over-weight; severe weather destroying sets and numerous postponements of the film’s release.
The patrol boat rendezvous with a helicopter air assault unit commanded by Colonel Kilgore (memorably played by Robert Duvall) which then escorts the patrol boat through a Viet Cong held coastal mouth attacking the Viet Cong at dawn whilst memorably playing Ride Of The Valkyries on loudspeakers.
It is all totally appalling but it is also utterly compelling cinema at it’s most majestic and operatic.
There are numerous adventures the river boat experiences on the way up the Nung River but the sense of foreboding of approaching Kurtz (Brando) hangs over the journey.
Willard finally reaches Kurtz’s compound and he is bound and bought before Kurtz where he tells Willard about his theories of war and life. He then implies to Willard that he will accept his death at the hands of him.
There are 3 versions of Apocalypse Now – Theatrical, Redux and Final Cut; of which I have always preferred the theatrical cut version as IMO the longer versions simply add more padding to a film that is already at the right length at 147 minutes in it’s original release length.
Today, a film like Apocalypse Now would never get made where the artistic vision of an obsessive film-maker would never get financed in the woke-drenched excuse that was once a great movie-making industry.
It’s now generally acclaimed as one of the greatest films of all-time and is one of my top 20 favourite films.