My 20 Favourite Films #17: Apocalypse Now

Contributor: Rick McGimpsey


Francis Ford Coppola is easily one of my favourite filmmakers of all time. If I ever make a list of favourite directors you can be sure he will appear in the top 5 somewhere.
Coppola being one of my favourite filmmakers means that there are a lot of his movies that I can choose from for this spot and, believe me, more will appear later in this series of posts. After wading through his many masterpieces like The Godfather Trilogy, The Conversation, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and the Outsiders; Apocalypse Now seemed like the perfect choice for the seventeenth spot for my twenty favourite films.

Apocalypse Now is a brilliant retelling of Joseph Conrad’s novella, Heart of Darkness, which deals with the darker themes of war-related trauma and descending into madness that many films fail to adequately deal with.
The film is set during the Vietnam War and centres around an army captain who is assigned to locate a colonel (played by the amazing Marlon Brando) who went AWOL and is now considered insane and dangerous. Last reports indicated he was deep down the river into the jungles of Cambodia setting himself up as some charismatic figure that the natives are following with nearly religious loyalty. The captain is ordered to “terminate” his command at all costs
As the captain (played by Martin Sheen) and a team of draftees head down the river they are swept up in a journey that inevitably brings the harshest and most brutal aspects of war and human nature that they never had previously thought imaginable.

The film is very successful at depicting the horrors of war without glamorising it as a glorious exercise in honour and victory. War is harsh, raw, depressing, and steals loved ones from families. Apocalypse Now portrays that reality of combat so effectively that the deaths of characters feel less fictional and more like a tragic end to friends and family members that will never be seen again.
And that is precisely what I appreciate about Francis Ford Coppola’s films. They do not glamorise the violence they depict. Whether it be from war, the mafia, or gangs the violence in a Coppola film feels real and tragic. The lives in Apocalypse Now are destroyed, ruined, and unalterably changed by their circumstances. Coppola is definitely a good source if you are looking for an honest film that presents its subject manner in a way that puts you emotional in the spot of the characters. Apocalypse Now is no exception.


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