Apocalypse Now

  • Directors: Francis Ford Coppola
  • Producers: Francis Ford Coppola
  • Writers: Novel, Joseph Conrad, Screenplay, John Milius, Francis Ford Coppola
  • Genres: Action, Drama, War
  • Actors: Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Frederic Forrest, Sam Bottoms, Laurence Fishburne, Albert Hall, Harrison Ford

It is 1969 and the war is at its height. CPT Benjamin L. Willard (Martin Sheen) has returned to Saigon; a seasoned veteran, he is deeply troubled and apparently no longer adjusted to civilian life. Two intelligence officers, LTG Corman (G. D. Spradlin) and COL Lucas (Harrison Ford), as well as a government man (Jerry Ziesmer), approach him with a special mission: journey up the fictional Nung River into the remote Cambodian jungle to find COL Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando), a former member of the United States Army Special Forces.

They state that Kurtz, once considered a model officer and future general, has allegedly gone insane and is commanding a legion of his own Montagnard troops deep inside the forest in neutral Cambodia. Their claims are supported by very disturbing radio broadcasts and/or recordings made by Kurtz himself. Willard is ordered to undertake a mission to find Kurtz and terminate the Colonel’s command “with extreme prejudice.”

Willard studies the intelligence files during the boat ride to the river entrance and learns that Kurtz, isolated in his compound, has assumed the role of a warlord and is worshipped by the natives and his own loyal men. Willard learns much later that another officer, Colby (Scott Glenn), sent earlier to kill Kurtz, may have become one of his lieutenants.

While bound outside in the pouring rain, Willard is approached by Kurtz, who places the severed head of Chef in his lap. Coppola makes little explicit, but we come to believe that Willard and Kurtz develop an understanding nonetheless; Kurtz wishes to die at Willard’s hands, and Willard, having subsequently granted Kurtz his wish, is offered the chance to succeed him in his warlord-demigod role. Juxtaposed with a ceremonial slaughtering of a Water Buffalo, Willard enters Kurtz’s chamber during one of his message recordings, and kills him with a machete. This entire sequence is set to “The End” by The Doors, as is the sequence at the very beginning of the film. Lying bloody and dying on the ground, Kurtz whispers “The horror… the horror,” a line taken directly from Conrad’s novella. Willard drops his weapon as in turn the natives do in a symbolic act of laying down of arms,he walks through the now-silent crowd of natives and takes Johnson (who is now fully integrated into the native society) by the hand. He leads Johnson to the PBR, and floats away as Kurtz’s final words echo in the wind as the screen fades to black.

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