Watch and review a movie, documentary, fiction book, etc. and assess it for reliability and value.
Coppola’s choice of title, Apocalypse Now, already hints to the audience that the film entailed will feature some form of shocking revelation. The films has many visually scenic shots, the one which stood out to me most was “The Ride of the Valkyries”. These scenes are paired with an intense storyline about Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) assignment to capture and if necessary, murder the rouge Col. Kurtz (Marlon Brando) who has been rumoured to be living in the Cambodian jungle as a local “god” figure.
I personally enjoyed the film. It is a classic which has received very positive reviews, and with good reason. Coppola’s message of the dark, savage nature of war explores controversial and somewhat depressing ideas which many stereotypical war films avoid. Coppola has stated that whilst the film may be considered anti-war, Apocalypse Now is more about of an anti-lie film, “...the fact that a culture can lie about what’s really going on in warfare, that people are being brutalized, tortured, maimed, and killed, and somehow present this as moral is what horrifies me, and perpetuates the possibility of war”. Whilst I do recommend this film for its different take on war, and its success in making the audience truly understand and be horrified at the horrors which took place in the Vietnam War, Apocalypse Now is quite long and dark, and therefore I personally do not recommend this film for your own entertainment.
In order to assess the reliability and value of the film, I will use OPVL to assess the source and its origins, as well as examine different examples of key points in the film which demonstrate historical accuracy/inaccuracy.
Key Historical Points in the Film
Apocalypse Now is somewhat accurate in the smaller, more general details of the Vietnam War, however is quite inaccurate in terms of the larger context and time of the film.
- Apocalypse Now is an adaptation of the novel Heart of Darkness, so the specific storyline of the film is fictional. This includes the characters, such as Captain Willard based on the novel’s protagonist Joseph Conrad and Colonel Kurtz obviously based on Kurtz.
- The fictional characters can be seen as representing the lives of real people who experienced the Vietnam War. An example is the four soldiers who accompany Willard on his mission, who can be seen to loosely represent Americans who were drafted to America at the time.
- However as the protagonists are based on a novel’s characters, their representation of the experiences of American soldiers in the Vietnam War is debatable.
- Geography of the film is fairly accurate.
- Saigon is featured as the capital of South Vietnam, which is true.
- The Nung River is completely inaccurate, and does not exist. It does somewhat represent the Mekong river, however the North Vietnamese village (known was “charlie’s Point” is also not real.
- The U.S supply depot at Hau Phat and the last U.S army outpost on the river at the Lu Dong Bridge are both not real.
Portrayal of Vietnamese/Vietnam
- There are virtually no Vietnamese characters. Whilst Coppola declared his film was “not about Vietnam- it is Vietnam”, I can only remember one Vietnamese character saying a line.
- The Vietnam War was essential a civil war, with North Vietnam and South Vietnam being the two major combatants. This is evident in casualty figures:
- 1.1 million- North Vietnam
- 2223,746- South Vietnam
- 58,200- U.S.A
- However, by focusing solely on the experience of American soldiers, the film appears to portray the Vietnam War as an American War simply set in Vietnam.
- In one scene there is an arrow and spear attack in the Vietnamese Jungle. This scene was based off of Heart of Darkness, where a river boat pilot is impaled by a spear. This scene in Apocalypse Now is highlight inaccurate, as the North Vietnamese/Viet Cong did not win the Vietnam War through the use of such weapons.
- Vietnam appears to be deserted country in this film. As Willard travels up the Nung river, the only signs of human life are two US army bases. In reality, Vietnam is a highly overpopulated nation, with rivers and roads surrounded by the population. There are also barely any signs of human life such as Vietnamese banners or signs, which were and still are highly common throughout Vietnam.
Apocalypse Now. Dir. Francis Ford Coppola. Perf. Martin Sheen and Marlon Brando. Paramount Pictures, 1979. DVD.
Origin- The film was produced and directed by Francis Ford Coppola from the U.S. The film adapted the novel Heart of Darkness.
Purpose- Apocalypse Now was an epic war movie, and therefore its main purpose was to be a box-office hit and make a profit. This is reflected in its large production budget of $31.5 million. Additionally, Coppola may have made the film to become more recognised in the movie industry for having a unique take on a war movie.
Value- The value of Apocalypse Now is that it provides audiences with an entertaining way to learn more about the Vietnam War and the experiences of American soldiers.
Limitation- The film is not particularly useful to historians aiming to study the Vietnam War. The film features numerous historical inaccuracies, and is a fictional film rather than a documentary. Whilst it does provide a new take on the stark, depressing truth of war, the film only portrays the Vietnam War and America’s involvement in an especially negative light. The films main purpose of financial success may have led to the sensationalization/exaggeration of certain aspects of the war in the film.