The film, “Apocalpyse Now,” directed by Francis Ford Coppola, illustrates the psychologically damaging effects of the Vietnam war. As the story progresses, each character falls deeper into both an actual and metaphorical darkness, of the landscape and in their minds. The relationship between the landscape and mental psyche of the soldiers, is seen as the crew, made up of Chief, Lance, Chef, Clean, and Willard, venture further into enemy territory. The purpose of their mission is to escort Willard, the narrator and main character, to captain Kurtz.
Kurtz is a former high-ranking military member, who has gone rogue, and seemingly lost his sanity. Each character loses their sense of self, as the horrors of war escalate around them, as their environment becomes more menacing. The film offers several insights into war, and human nature. The most prominent being that in a society, there are constraints to keep people from, “losing it. ” The film makes the point that freedom from such societal constrains, leads to insanity, and that once pushed to a certain point, you can either reject or embrace the dark, savage, and primal part of your mind and soul.Order now
This is seen in both Willard and Kurtz, where Willard ends up rejecting this notion, and Kurtz ends up accepting. Both Willard and Kurtz followed the same psychological path to insanity. This change is depicted in Willard, as he travels further and further up the Nung River, towards Kurtz. Once Willard reaches the compound, it represents the same psychological crossroads Kurtz came across. The psyche of a soldier is a direct product of the environment they are in. In an environment as absurd and horrible as Vietnam, insanity is only a matter of time and circumstance.
In this sense I use insanity to describe the savage part of one’s self, that war indulges. The film makes the point that the soldier has the choice, to either accept or deny the insanity of war, as seen in Willard as he rejects succeeding Kurtz as the native’s leader. In the beginning of the film, Willard is shown intoxicated in his room, and eager to return to action. It becomes apparent that he is already damaged. This is his second tour of duty. He has chosen to return after failing to assimilate back to civilian culture in the U. S. During the scene, he punches a mirror in his drunken state, symbolically destroying himself.
Later in the movie he states, “Someday this war’s gonna end. That’d be just fine with the boys on the boat. They weren’t looking for anything more than a way home. Trouble is, I’d been back there, and I knew that it just didn’t exist anymore. ” This highlights the divide between Willard, and the rest of the crew. Willard has already been forever changed by the environment of Vietnam. The other crew members are unaware of this fact. They simply want to get in, get out, and go home. They do not yet understand that past a certain threshold, there really is no returning. To them, the mission is a means to an end.
To Willard, it’s a way to get back in touch with his sense of self. He is further along the path to insanity, which continues as the movie progresses. As the crew moves up the river, Willard becomes increasingly intrigued with Kurtz. He constantly checks his dossier and reads about the man he is sent to kill. In the film, Willard states, “It was no accident that I got to be the caretaker of Colonel Walter E. Kurtz’s memory, any more than being back in Saigon was an accident. There is no way to tell his story without telling my own.
And if his story is really a confession, then so is mine. As most of the narration in the film is presented in the past tense, this statement foreshadows the decision Willard makes at the end of the film. When saying that he is to being the caretaker of Kurtz’s memory, he is referring to Kurtz’s entrusting Willard to tell his story to his son. I believe he is talking about all the sons to follow. Kurtz understands that Willard is on a similar path, and that Willard understands why he has become what he is; why he has broken. Although Kurtz sets Willard up to be his successor in the jungle, it is almost as if he hopes Willard rejects his proposal.
This is why he doesn’t immediately kill Willard. He wants him to take his story back with him, to share, in an attempt to prevent it from happening to those who follow in the future. Willard sees himself in Kurtz. At a point in the film, when reading the folder on Kurtz, it almost becomes unclear to Willard whether the words are Kurtz, or his own. In one of the movie’s flagship lines, Willard states, “Never get out of the boat. Absolutely goddamn right. Unless you were goin’ all the way. Kurtz got off the boat. He split from the whole fuckin’ program. ” In saying this, Willard is referring to the boat as symbol for a soldier’s sanity.
Again, the environment serves as a parallel to a soldier’s psyche. He warns against leaving the societal constrains of the soldiers around you, and entering the jungle, where things become dark and foggy. Willard understands the path leading to insanity. He has traveled it. He has crossed the threshold, and managed to return. He understands why Kurtz has transformed. His whole narration of the film, is seemingly aimed at the soldiers to come. He is Kurtz’s messenger. War is absurd. It exposes the darkest and foggiest parts of a soldier’s mind and soul. The jungle represents this both literally, and metaphorically; Never get off the boat.