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Film/Viewer Interaction in Apocalypse Now Essay

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“The horror... the horror...”- Colonel Kurtz
are the last lines of Apocalypse Now, the Francis Ford Coppola directed war-film masterpiece, which truly explores horror. Typical war films, like Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket or Boulle’s The Bridge on the River Kwai, follow the camaraderie of a protagonist and his unit and their struggles that build up to a violent and climactic confrontation where both sides sustain losses to illustrate the tragedy of war. Apocalypse Now is different; there are only two moments of brief violence that the main character participates in and he rarely talks with anyone else. The real conflict of the movie is in the mind of the viewer and not on the screen. Apocalypse Now succeeds in its goal of bringing the audience’s minds into the insanity of war through hauntingly beautiful cinematography paired with an effective soundtrack to create a surreality and delayed editing to cause a desire for violence.
The opening sequence sets the stage for the surreality and subjectivity of the picture and sound of Apocalypse Now. Initially, helicopters fly over a palm beach in slow motion. Rotor blades beat much too slowly to be those of a life-speed helicopter. The viewer can immediately distinguish this as indicative of a dreamlike perception because common expectations suggest that life runs at normal speed and thus film of real life do the same. This gives the sequence a surreal feeling. Smoke, stirred by the helicopters, drifts subtly; elegantly; leisurely. However, the shoreline soon erupts into mini mushroom clouds of napalm fire. Still in slow-motion, it appears to the viewer both artful and fascinating. A normal shocked reaction to the destruction is suppressed in favor of wonder because of the films illuso...


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...s both beautifully illustrates the disgusting and senseless violence of war (since certainly the viewers look inside themselves and find some unwarranted craving for the violence) and how close to human nature that war really is. Instead of showing a war and its brutal outcome to conclude at the cliché moral of “war is bad for everyone,” Apocalypse Now attempts (and succeeds) to take an opposite perspective. It convinces the viewer that “war is good” so that when they* find themselves believing it, they* also find it contradicting their conventional notions and they* must examine why we really fight. As soon as we stop inherently trusting our own perceptions, with only a few hours of pictures and sound, Copolla first elicits the violent tendencies of his audience, and then shows them a picture of those horrors. The picture is a mirror and “the horror” is within us.


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