I'll say one thing about "Apocalypse Now": it is definitely not an easy movie to watch. Aside from the unfamiliar setting (at least to me), the film deals with heavy subject matter (war, morality, truth, human nature), and in almost every scene there's something that make you squirm or wince. Things that make you uncomfortable. The very first scene has Willard (Martin Sheen) remembering his time spent in the Vietnam jungles -- there's an eery song by The Doors playing in the background, a very sick looking Willard, fiery explosions and the ominous sound of choppers, all superimposed into one long monologue scene. Sheen's voiceovers are dark, dreary, haunting--almost too haunting, at first--but it all fits in perfectly with the setting. As we journey along with Willard into "the darkness," we must imagine ourselves in Willard's place, already tired with war, yet unable to leave it behind and unable to find anything at "home" to compensate for the sense of loss. A man holding his guts in with a potlid. A crazy yet invincible man Killgore (Robert "I love the smell of napalm in the morning" Duvall) who would annihilate a whole village nominally to help Willard, but in reality he just wants to see Lance surf. One of the most shocking scenes in the movie: the massacre of an innocent native family travelling on a small boat. Willard entering Kurtz's "territory," the things he sees there, what Kurtz has to say, and the final, almost ritualistic killing of Kurtz. It all "ends not with a bang but a whimper": we never know if the airstrike eventually gets called in, but as Willard drifts slowly back down the river, we are left with numerous questions and perhaps even doubts about moralities, values, and such. The film also features excellent shots that don't seem outdated even after 20 more years of experimenting with cinema. If anything, Coppola successfully portrays the "impenetrable wilderness" that Conrad had written about.
It's one of the movies that gets you thinking right from the start. No two people will draw the same conclusion, except maybe the anti-war message that Coppola intended it to have. I especially recommend watching it more than one time to familiarize yourself with the chain of events and the sometimes indecipherable dialogue -- there are gems in here, especially the famous "horror" speech by Kurtz (Marlon Brando). There are no easy answers to the questions this film poses -- whether they concern the war itself or the grey areas that Joseph Conrad had promulgated in his novel already. It takes plenty of concentration and ready perceptiveness to appreciate this film and all the heavy baggage that comes with it.
"Perhaps all the wisdom, and all truth, and all sincerity, are just compressed into that inappreciable moment of time in which we step over the threshold of the invisible." -- Marlow, "Heart of Darkness"
Rating: A- (First viewing, 10/2/98)