Showing posts with label Best. Movies. Ever.. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Best. Movies. Ever.. Show all posts

Friday, February 15, 2019

BEST. MOVIES. EVER: APOCALYPSE NOW

"You understand, Captain, that this mission does not exist, nor will it ever exist."

One of my all-time favorite movie posters.  I like it so much that after watching the film once in 1995
and not loving it, I gave it another chance years later.  Good thing I did, because that's when the film clicked for me.

Why has Francis Ford Coppola's Vietnam War tour de force Apocalypse Now, whose production was hampered by just about every turmoil and anxiety imaginable, endured the last 35 years as a genuine classic?   How was its director able to weather the perfect storm of location problems, unpredictable equipment availability, cast changes, health scares, and a wholly mercurial and unprepared star, and come out the other side with one of the greatest of all war films, indeed one of the greatest films of any genre?  Perhaps adversity really is key to making great art.  Maybe the filmmakers' creative anguish formed a cinematic powderkeg, the volatility of which can be felt in every frame.  Or maybe Apocalypse Now remains in our collective lexicon because it is not a "war film" in the traditional sense, but rather a story about traveling inward to the darkest recesses of the human soul and confronting what we find.  Perhaps the above quote from Harrison Ford's character Colonel G. Lucas (get it?) is more significant than just a plot-related throwaway line.

The film begins with a beautiful slow-motion shot - a reject from the vast collection of dailies that Coppola just happened to fish out of the trash, depicting a forest being incinerated by a fleet of helicopters - before blending into a composite shot.  The jungle becomes the background for an upside-down closeup of Martin Sheen as Captain Benjamin Willard and a closeup of a temple face carved out of stone.  The soundtrack to this beautifully disturbing montage is The Doors epic "The End," which in its own right would become another character in the film.  This combined image is a harbinger of the introspective, surrealistic journey Willard, and we, are about to take.

Effin' trippy, dude.


"There is no way to tell (Colonel Kurtz's) story without telling my own. And if his story really is a confession, then so is mine."

Capt. Willard is a broken man when we first meet him.  Like a victim of Stockholm Syndrome, he has been at war so long he no longer knows how to live without it; how to relate to the outside world.  His marriage has ended and he's chosen to return to battle, but without a mission he rots away in a Saigon hotel room, spending most waking hours in a drunken haze.  He is a man devoid of purpose, and when his superiors finally give him something to do, it is the unenviable (and classified) task of traveling upriver through the war-mutilated country to kill a rogue US Colonel.  The film then becomes a series of detached events resembling Homer's Odyssey, as Willard and his boat crew travel deeper and deeper into the jungle.

Willard's target, the highly decorated Colonel Walter Kurtz, has established a cult-like settlement deep in the Loatian jungle (where he is worshiped by the local tribes) and wages his own chaotic form of war.  Willard reluctantly agrees to the mission despite its profound moral ambiguity, and as his journey progresses he finds himself both fearing and deeply respecting Kurtz for all his accomplishments.  He begins to doubt his ability to carry out the mission.

Apocalypse Now is full of great shots.  This one is simple but perfectly captures
the overwhelming heat and claustrophobia of the location.