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Apocalypse Now Review Essay

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Vietnam was a war fought by the unwillingly, for the ungrateful, led by the unqualified. Apocalypse Now is Coppola’s film based on Heart of Darkness, but set in the Vietnam jungle. The major theme in the novel is the examination of America’s involvement, militarily, in Vietnam. However, like Conrad’s novel, it also shows the potential inherent darkness in all human hearts. Coppola retains the basic structure of Conrad’s novel for his film. As Marlow, in Heart of Darkness, travels up the Congo eventually to find Kurtz, similarly, Captain Willard the protagonist in Coppola’s film travels up the Nung River to meet his Kurtz. Both the Company and the Army want their Kurtzes dead. Kurtz exposes his superior’s real motives and methods and the Army does not want the truth to be known. Willard becomes more perceptive to the moral darkness around him: this causes him to question his real purpose, or goal in what he is doing. Eventually, after killing Kurtz, Willard realizes the Darkness that can be brought out in any man, examined through Kurtz, if society allows amoral values to thrive.

The message in Apocalypse Now is the same message in Heart of Darkness, which is that any man can succumb to his savage desires, he just needs the right environment to allow his temptations to be nurtured and bloom. Apocalypse Now was based on events that had deep meaning and significance for its director. Coppola had just witnessed his generation and the still younger generation fight this bloody conflict nobody wanted to be apart of. He must have seen the wounded and maimed war vets their physical scars obvious, who came to represent the lost generation. Politics at the time forced the Vietnam War upon the American people: men like Kennedy, LBJ, and Nixon were all guilty of this unimaginable crime. The Cold War was in full force and the American government felt it needed to stem the tide of spreading Communism in South East Asia. So, troops were sent to the Democratic Republic of South Vietnam to fight off their northern, Communist enemy. The war was lost before it even started. American politicians were concerned with body counts, kill ratios, and land occupation. Vietnam was about none of these aspects. The Americans dropped napalm, and Agent Orange, they sent B-52 bombers with ten thousand-pound bombs and dropped these on the dense jungles. They deforested entire regions of la...


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...ught. The drugs were used as a medicine to ward off this encroaching disease of human savagery. The GIs felt if their mind could be blocked from this approaching horror maybe it would pass and not stay with them. The prime example of this being untrue is Kurtz. He realized his whole being was savage; however, he also was prepared to use the last ounce of humanity he had left to cut away and kill this savagery, represented through the Willard’s clear vision.

Apocalyse Now brought to life all the real horrors the Vietnam vets faced, but more importantly it gave them an explanation as to why so many of them faced psychological sickness, upon returning to America. Coppola showed the darkness that came out of this war, expressed through the men who fought it. The movie did a fine job at critiquing the way in which the war was run, with no real objective or purpose being apparent. I think the chose of Coppola to base his outline structure on Conrad’s book, is ingenious. The darkness that was relevant in the 19th century, is still relevant today. Coppola shows this through Kurtz and the Vietnam vets who suffered so many mental problems and the darkness that came out of them in Vietnam.


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