August 23, 1979 [Apocalypse Now ]

Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now is based on Heart of Darkness--and Martin Sheen understands what that means--although his version of Conrad’s Buddha-like Marlow, Capt. Willard, is a bit less serene--but just as watchful, his eyes rising above the bloody-orange waters, the other soldiers understood only as shapes--some in affecting, anguished postures, but in the end simply horrors--the head thrown in Willard’s lap, his screams of no matter.

Just ask Brando, whose Kurtz also understands Conrad’s book, the New Man, serene himself in his crisp uniform, deciding at last to “exterminate the brutes”--I mean, “Drop the bomb.” Because they all become brutes, Charlie and grunts, good guys mashed into a pulp with the bad. But it’s more than moral miasma--Coppola announces it as an apocalypse in the present tense, bringing the war back home--and not the “home” of The Deer Hunter, the Pennsylvania mountains looming over the steel mills, all of it somehow reassuring, no matter how terrible their lives have to be. No, Coppola won’t let us go home--he’s too busy burning it down, boiling it grey, like all that prime rib that chef mourns--just before the tiger, burning bright, reminds him that this is the end, and all that’s left is hysteria driving him back to the boat.


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