19 February 2013

"Everyone gets everything he wants. I wanted a mission, and for my sins, they gave me one. Brought it up to me like room service. It was a real choice mission, and when it was over, I never wanted another."

Writing sometimes comes out of anger or depression. Rarely from ennui. But sometimes....I made Apocalypse Now (1979) my President's Day celebration film. How about that.

People spend a lot of time numbing their lives. Television. You tube. Chores. Mundane everyday tasks.   It's not escapism but avoidance. At the beginning of Apocalypse Now Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) talks about the impossibility of being at home in the states after his first tour in Nam. "When I was here, I wanted to be there; when I was there, all I could think of was getting back into the jungle." Many war veterans have said the same thing. Because for all its horror war reminds a person that he is alive. They are wide awake to life and that awareness is like a drug. Imagine having that horrible acid trip that is war the whole time wanting to come down from it then once down wanting to drop another tab. Oh man.

It's no surprise that the film has the feel of an acid trip. From the opening shots of the helicopter The Doors singing "The End" and the jungle going up in flames through the journey up the river culminating with the insanity of Col. Kurtz it is a long very strange trip.

Yeah the helicopters. I've had a thing for helicopters every since high school when one poured tear gas down on me and thousands of others gathered on the Cal campus to protest the Viet Nam War. Seminal moment. These were not enemy choppers and I was not an armed combatant. From curious bystander to instant radical. The sound of those blades chopping through the air....Still. Today. 

There's a lot of helicopter action in Apocalypse Now. There are copters raining death from above on a Vietnamese village. The airborne cavalry. There's Robert Duvall extolling the smell of napalm in the morning. It's one of the many oft repeated lines from the film.  Like another Coppola masterpiece -- The Godfather (1972) -- Apocalypse Now is much remembered for its quotes and for its iconic characters. But these are just the ornaments of a kaleidoscopic and weighty epic. It is a heavy heavy movie sometimes feeling like an enthralling nightmare that won't end. It is humorless but beautiful. Despairing of humanity. At once an embrace of the warrior mentality and repudiation of it. Kurtz is hero villain victim. So are all soldiers. Instantly tragic figures caught up in a game played by politicians.

Ultimately Apocalypse Now is about madness and how it lives such a rich full life just beneath the human surface and is able to reign freely and easily where man make war.  Kurtz was the model soldier who eventually fell into his own special abyss of insanity in which murder cloaked in battle made so much sense. Surely Duvall's Kilgore is a nut. Surfing through the war and playing Wagner.

Apocalypse Now is remarkably free of tension and there is little real contemplation of death. There is shock and mourning as Willard's crew meet their fates but these and other deaths are props in a story more heavy with the weight of group psychosis and savagery. It is no accident that Kurtz uses the word horror for this is a horror story. The beasts are men driven to acts that would be incomprehensible in other circumstances. But war...They are alternately manic and like zombies. Bouncing from one extreme emotional state in the next. Adrenalin coursing through their beings then suddenly abating replaced by overwhelming lethargy.

How does one go back to normal after living in among and as such madness? No wonder returning vets so often succumbed to drug addiction. It was the only way to replace the intense feeling of living not on but over the edge. The higher wire act. The craziness. The roller coaster without wheels.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

the movie is a big trip because most of staff memebers including actors and even Scorsese (they say) were in a real drug trip, the movie was a genuine hardship to acomplish and due to that plus a ton of technical complications, weather and living in the jungle pushed people to..... how did you say it? Avoidance. They were on drugs most of the time and the famous opening scen in which Sheen (not Wilard) is punching the mirror, well, tehy say it was real........
I ended up on this blog just because I am on a pretty shitty situation and Wilard's words came to my mind. ......and for my sins they gave me one.......

thanks for blogging