Apocalypse Now (1979) movie review & summary & introduction


Apocalypse Now is a seminal film directed by Francis Ford Coppola, released in 1979. The production of the movie was notorious for its numerous challenges and setbacks, leading to a prolonged and arduous filming process. Originally inspired by Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness, the film was set during the Vietnam War era but reimagined the narrative in the context of the war’s moral and psychological complexities.

Difficulties of Making the Film

The production faced a myriad of issues, including unpredictable weather conditions in the Philippines where much of the filming took place. There were also significant budget overruns and delays, partly due to the ambitious vision of the director. Coppola grappled with creative differences with the cast and crew, technical problems, and the departure of lead actor Harvey Keitel, who was replaced by Martin Sheen midway through filming. Additionally, Sheen suffered a heart attack during production, further complicating matters.

Director and Cast

  • Director: Francis Ford Coppola
  • Actors and Roles:
    1. Martin Sheen as Captain Benjamin L. Willard
    2. Marlon Brando as Colonel Walter E. Kurtz
    3. Robert Duvall as Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore
    4. Frederic Forrest as Jay ‘Chef’ Hicks
    5. Sam Bottoms as Lance B. Johnson
    6. Laurence Fishburne as Tyrone ‘Clean’ Miller
    7. Dennis Hopper as Photojournalist
    8. Harrison Ford as Colonel Lucas
    9. Albert Hall as Chief Phillips
    10. G.D. Spradlin as General R. Corman

General Concept

Apocalypse Now delves into the darkness of the human psyche amidst the backdrop of the Vietnam War. It’s a surreal journey into the heart of madness, exploring themes of imperialism, morality, and the horrors of war. The narrative follows Captain Willard, a troubled soldier, as he embarks on a mission to assassinate Colonel Kurtz, a renegade officer who has gone rogue and established his own brutal empire deep within the Cambodian jungle.

Complete Story

The film opens with a mesmerizing sequence set to the haunting sounds of The Doors’ “The End.” Captain Willard, played by Martin Sheen, is introduced as a disillusioned soldier battling his inner demons in a Saigon hotel room. He is soon tasked with a top-secret mission: to journey up the Nung River into the heart of Cambodia and terminate the command of Colonel Kurtz, who has become a cult-like figure among his followers.

As Willard embarks on his journey, he encounters various characters and witnesses the absurdity and brutality of war. One of the most iconic scenes involves the infamous Colonel Kilgore, played by Robert Duvall, leading a helicopter assault on a Vietnamese village while blasting Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries.” This sequence highlights the juxtaposition of beauty and destruction, a recurring motif throughout the film.

As Willard progresses deeper into the jungle, he experiences hallucinatory visions and confronts the moral ambiguity of his mission. He encounters a group of stranded US soldiers who have succumbed to madness, as well as a psychedelic USO show featuring Playboy Bunnies entertaining troops in the midst of chaos.

Eventually, Willard reaches Kurtz’s compound, a surreal enclave where the boundaries between sanity and madness blur. He is confronted by the enigmatic Kurtz, played by Marlon Brando, who delivers haunting monologues about the nature of war and human nature itself. Willard is torn between his orders and his growing admiration for Kurtz’s intellect and charisma.

In the film’s climactic sequence, Willard confronts Kurtz in a chilling and symbolic ritualistic ceremony. He ultimately carries out his orders, assassinating Kurtz with a sense of somber resignation. As he exits the compound, the film closes with a sense of ambiguity, leaving viewers to ponder the deeper meanings of Willard’s journey and the moral implications of his actions.

Apocalypse Now is a cinematic masterpiece that transcends its war genre trappings, offering a profound meditation on the darkness that lurks within the human soul. With its stunning visuals, innovative storytelling, and powerhouse performances, it remains a timeless classic that continues to resonate with audiences decades after its release.

Adaptation from Book

Apocalypse Now is not a direct adaptation of a single book; however, it draws heavily on Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness for thematic inspiration. Conrad’s work explores colonialism and the darkness within human nature, themes that are echoed in Coppola’s film. While Apocalypse Now is not a strict adaptation, it reimagines Conrad’s narrative within the context of the Vietnam War, creating a powerful commentary on the horrors of war and the human psyche.

Best Features of the Movie

  1. Visually Stunning: One of the most striking aspects of Apocalypse Now is its breathtaking cinematography. The film captures the lush beauty of the Vietnamese landscape juxtaposed with the devastation of war, creating a surreal and immersive visual experience.
  2. Powerful Performances: The film boasts stellar performances from its ensemble cast, including Martin Sheen’s haunting portrayal of Captain Willard and Marlon Brando’s enigmatic Colonel Kurtz. Each actor brings depth and complexity to their roles, elevating the film to another level.
  3. Ambitious Storytelling: Coppola’s ambitious vision for Apocalypse Now pushes the boundaries of traditional storytelling. The film is a surreal and existential journey into the heart of darkness, exploring profound themes of morality, madness, and the human condition.
  4. Iconic Soundtrack: From the haunting opening sequence set to The Doors’ “The End” to the bombastic helicopter assault accompanied by Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” the soundtrack of Apocalypse Now enhances the film’s atmosphere and emotional impact.
  5. Thought-Provoking Themes: Apocalypse Now tackles weighty themes such as the horrors of war, the moral ambiguity of violence, and the nature of power. It invites viewers to reflect on the human capacity for both greatness and depravity.

Critics’ Reception

Apocalypse Now received widespread critical acclaim upon its release, with many critics praising its ambitious storytelling, stunning visuals, and powerful performances. Roger Ebert hailed it as “one of the key films of the century,” while Vincent Canby of The New York Times described it as “a stunning and disturbing work.”

Critics also lauded Coppola’s ability to capture the madness and absurdity of war, as well as the film’s exploration of existential themes. However, some reviewers found fault with its meandering narrative and excessive length.

Overall, Apocalypse Now holds a remarkable 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, solidifying its status as a cinematic masterpiece.

Why We Must Watch This Movie

Apocalypse Now stands as a cinematic masterpiece that transcends its genre and time period, offering viewers a profoundly immersive and thought-provoking experience. Here’s why this film is a must-watch for audiences:

1. Profound Exploration of Human Nature: At its core, Apocalypse Now delves deep into the complexities of human nature, exploring themes of morality, madness, and the darkness that resides within us all. Through its characters and their harrowing journey, the film forces viewers to confront uncomfortable truths about the human condition.

2. Visual Spectacle: From its stunning cinematography to its surreal and haunting imagery, Apocalypse Now is a visual feast for the eyes. Director Francis Ford Coppola creates a vivid and immersive world that transports viewers into the heart of the Vietnam War, capturing both the beauty and brutality of the landscape.

3. Stellar Performances: The film boasts an ensemble cast of exceptional talent, including Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, and Robert Duvall, who deliver captivating and emotionally resonant performances. Their portrayal of characters grappling with the moral complexities of war elevates the film to another level.

4. Ambitious Storytelling: Coppola’s ambitious vision for Apocalypse Now pushes the boundaries of traditional storytelling, resulting in a film that is both epic in scale and intimate in its exploration of the human psyche. The narrative unfolds in a nonlinear fashion, mirroring the disorienting and surreal nature of war itself.

5. Timeless Relevance: Despite being set during the Vietnam War, Apocalypse Now remains as relevant today as it was upon its release. Its themes of imperialism, violence, and the destructive nature of power resonate in our contemporary world, offering valuable insights into the human condition and the consequences of unchecked ambition.

6. Cinematic Legacy: Apocalypse Now has left an indelible mark on the world of cinema, influencing countless filmmakers and artists with its bold storytelling and innovative techniques. It stands as a testament to the power of cinema to provoke thought, evoke emotion, and challenge our perceptions of the world around us.

Other Similar Movies

  1. Full Metal Jacket (1987): Directed by Stanley Kubrick, this Vietnam War film explores the dehumanizing effects of military training and combat.
  2. Platoon (1986): Directed by Oliver Stone, Platoon follows a young soldier’s moral journey amidst the chaos of the Vietnam War.
  3. The Deer Hunter (1978): Directed by Michael Cimino, this film examines the psychological impact of war on a group of friends from a small Pennsylvania town.
  4. Born on the Fourth of July (1989): Another Oliver Stone film, Born on the Fourth of July tells the true story of Ron Kovic, a paralyzed Vietnam War veteran who becomes an anti-war activist.
  5. Apocalypse Now Redux (2001): Coppola released an extended version of Apocalypse Now in 2001, featuring additional footage and a longer runtime.
  6. The Thin Red Line (1998): Directed by Terrence Malick, this film explores the philosophical and existential dimensions of war through the experiences of soldiers during the Battle of Guadalcanal in World War II.

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