For one reason or another, there’s a select set of films that every film lover is seemingly required to watch at some point in life. Those films that are deemed essential, and those who haven’t seen them are met with shock, and sometimes even disgust. And from there comes the seven words that no self proclaimed cinephile likes to hear: “How have you never seen that before?” There’s no true answer to this question, because in reality, it almost seems too illogical to ever be genuinely asked. Because with an infinite number of options to choose from, obviously there will be gaps simply due to time. But where many will see these gaps as disrespect to the cinema world, there’s much to be benefitted from missing some of these films. They can be examined through an entirely different lens, one that is studious and prepared to dissect every last inch of it, whereas others who simply watch to avoid the criticism may not be fully invested. With that in mind, I was able to see Apocalypse Now: Final Cut in IMAX, and for a film of this magnitude, it seems like the best course of action would be to prepare yourself until you feel ready to encounter it in all its splendid madness.
Acting as a vicious assault on the senses that’s drenched in blood, sweat, and mud, Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 film, Apocalypse Now, has once again been recut, and this time, fully restored for modern audiences. Longer than the theatrical cut of the film, but trimmed down from the 2001 Redux, this seems to serve as Coppola’s definitive version, at least for the moment. This is an incredibly dense film, packed to the brim with three hours of pure nightmare fuel for those involved. What is very well documented as an incredibly grueling time on set, it makes for an experience that’s brutally honest and blatantly critical of the unnecessary blood that was spilled in the Vietnam war. The basic plot is fairly straightforward, but this film is anything but simplistic. As Martin Sheen’s Captain Willard travels deeper through the jungle, civilization shrinks away until it’s just a memory. And seeing this effect on those that simply wanted to go home is where Coppola took a standard war film, and turned it into a deeply psychological horror.
Apocalypse Now: Final Cut is an immensely destructive descent into hell, and more often than not, quite literally. Many in this film have a breaking point, and those that don’t are simply too delusional to function as normal people anymore. Instead, they’re caricatures of larger ideas, and who better to exemplify this notion than that of Robert Duvall’s Lieutenant Kilgore. He is one of the first characters introduced upon beginning the journey upriver, and his decisions truly impact how many will view the film as a whole. He’s the man that doesn’t care about shells exploding behind him, or bullets whizzing by his team. He simply wants to surf, and if that means blowing a small village to oblivion to the tune of “Ride of the Valkyries”, then so be it. And while this notion seemed comedic to the audience I was a part of, it was nothing but horrific in my mind. The simple idea of this happening not because it was part of the war effort, but rather to simply find better waves for relaxation shows how disconnected from reality those involved were. At the same time, Kilgore makes sure all those who are wounded, regardless of side, was treated properly and urgently, even if he was the one responsible. These lies to oneself are addressed towards the end of the film when everything witnessed comes full circle.
As Willard and his crew trek deeper into the heart of madness, we learn more of Colonel Kurtz, the reason for this mission in the first place. He serves as an enigma for the entirety of the film, begging the question of what could have happened to this man who seemingly was the perfect soldier. It’s incredible just how many genres this film seems to dip it’s toes into, and this definitely has its noir moments as well. When Kurtz is finally revealed, it may be some of the most incredible acting ever displayed in film. Marlon Brando is bathed in shadows, and even though this was due to tensions on set, it truly gives the character an added layer of mystique. His logic is flawed, yet in an incredibly demented way, it’s understandable. So much so that Willard may be unaware of just how similar his values lie against Kurtz’ outlook. It’s a subdued performance, yet has the impact of a freight train in the grand scheme of the film.
As stated, this version of the film lies as a middle ground between Coppola’s original version and the dense Redux. The Redux is most well known for its inclusion of an extended sequence on a French plantation, and many dislike this sequence. It is still present in Final Cut, albeit a slightly trimmed down version; and while it slightly alters the pacing overall, it seems like an imperative moment to the film. As if the blatant carnage and destruction was not enough, this scene serves as a direct criticism of the nonsensical Vietnam war. Willard is told after all that he’s been through that he is fighting for “the biggest nothing in history”, and he fully knows it’s true. Yet as is displayed in the beginning of the film, it’s all he knows.
Overall, few films hold such an impact like Apocalypse Now: Final Cut does. Long after the film ends, its themes will sit with you and linger in the depths of your mind. It’s a war film unlike any other, and seems like a few rewatches are necessary before fully understanding it entirely. This is grand filmmaking at its finest, and seems like a film that could never be made today, for a plethora of reasons. The deeper one dives into the background behind this film, the closer we can hope to get to Coppola’s true vision.This film has been deemed a masterpiece for 40 years now, and upon finally viewing it in all its glory, it’s immediately evident as to why it has stood the test of time.
Apocalypse Now: Final Cut is releasing on 4K Blu-Ray August 27th.