APOCALYPSE NOW AS AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT
Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now was released in 1979 and was based ostensibly on Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Written in two different centuries, and with a different point of viewùConrad was writing about the consequences of globalization in commerce while Coppola used the Vietnam War as a backdropùboth the book and the film can also be viewed as the personal journey taken by the central character, Willard. In a larger sense, however, Apocalypse Now represents a departure of the way that Americans considered war films. World War II films were traditionally jingoistic with little or no criticism of war itself. Even a previous Vietnam War film, The Green Berets, was largely a pro-American, pro-war piece. This analysis considers the film as an historical document, and how it both reflects its time and foreshadows changes in American society.
The plot of Apocalypse Now is straightforward: Captain Willard is given orders to travel upriver to where a renegade colonel has set up his own fiefdom. If Willard cannot persuade Colonel Kurtz to give up his activities, he is to "terminate with extreme prejudice"ùa euphemism that Willard understands means to execute Kurtz.
Although the plot is itself straightforward, it takes twists and turns just as the boat does as the film and the boat crew proceeds upriver. The boat crew encounters a USO show, but unlike the Bob Hope Christmas specials that were regularly televised during the Vietnam War, this USO show is presented very nearly as a parody of itself. These performers are themselves war-weary, the jungle is unforgiving and violence surrounds the show.
In addition, Willard's crew engages in drug use and listens to rock music, the first time that soldiers were shown in what might be considered "realistic" ways. This was in stark contrast to The Green Berets of ten years previous where John Wayne led highly disciplined me...