I recently re-watched one of my favorite movies, Apocalypse Now, produced by Francis Ford Coppola. Though I did not initially think of it as a disaster movie, after this viewing I found many parallels between the movie content and the topics we have been discussing in class. To give a brief overview, Apocalypse Now depicts the journey of Captain Willard, who is sent on a mission to Cambodia during the Vietnam war. Based loosely on Joseph Conrad’s renowned novella Heart of Darkness, this film is a brilliant combination of literature, music, and visual detail. As a person who does not typically like war movies, I can say that this movie is so artfully directed and produced that literally anyone can find something to like about it.
On the other hand, Heart of Darkness was written in 1899 and focuses on Marlow, an Englishman who takes an assignment to be a captain in Africa during the time of European colonization and cruelty toward the native people. Though each work focuses on a completely different time period, the underlying meaning of the conflict and cruelty is strikingly similar—both portray the extent of the chaos that a “developed” nation can impose on a supposedly less civilized country. Through special attention to visual detail, both reveal the ironic discrepancy between the actions of a “civilization” and the attempted justification of these acts.
Although each story is set in different places and times: the film encompassing the Vietnam War and the book set during Europe’s imperialism of Africa, they both depict the wilderness, an integral symbol in both works, in the same way. Though there are parallels all throughout the works, they contain so much detail and dimension I could basically write an essay on the very beginning of each. (I do not really want to do that, so I’m just focusing on the first scene of both.)
For example, in the opening scene of Apocalypse Now, palm trees fade into view from a black screen. They stand, unmoving in the absolute stillness of the jungle. This motionless shot of the landscape is first interrupted by an American helicopter that passes by, and then further disrupted by smoke which begins to rise and culminate in the foreground. The way that Coppola presents the jungle to the audience is similar to the way that Marlow saw the jungle for the first time. Describing the view of the jungle from his steamboat, Marlow says that it was “almost featureless, as if still in the making, with an aspect of monotonous grimness” In both scenes, the Conrad and Coppola emphasize the absolute stillness of the jungle, creating anticipation (and perhaps puzzlement) in the audience. They also disrupt this stillness with similar elements. In the book, Marlow also describes the water along the edge of the jungle as being “blurred by a creeping mist” and how “the land seemed to glisten and drip with steam.” This mist and steam serves the same purpose as the smoke that begins to rise in the movie’s scene. In both cases, the sharpness and stillness of the jungle is disrupted, creating suspense.
I’m starting to get carried away, so I am cutting myself of now. Again, I’m not a war or history person, and this is still one of my favorite movies.
Watch it. It’s seriously awesome.