Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Thinking about The Apocalypse Now - Part 2

The main character, the seeker of the insane man Kurtz, Willard, sails up the Nung River with his crew - allegorically speaking, they are going back in time, to the beginning of human existence - the primordial times. As further up the river Willard goes, the wilder and more primitive everything gets. And far from ‘reality’, the soldiers were tempted to be animals and Gods. It is the soldiers of the war that are truly the “wild”, uncivilized people up on the river, not the natives, but the American soldiers in their stations along the river without any control, with their commanders gone, everything totally insane. Now, Willard, following Kurtz up the river, seeing the horror, knows why Kurtz departed the military and went his own way. Running into insane soldiers and officers like Kilgore (Duvall), a surfer-type Lt-Colonel and head of a U.S Army helicopter cavalry, who in the most shocking scene in the movie, the most insane, attacks the Vietnamese village with helicopters only so that the soldiers could surf there – an extremely absurd scene. They attack the village in helicopters, listening to Wagner, playing Gods, deciding who they’re going to kill, and exterminating the children, women and men. Seeing all the horror along the way, Willard begins to doubt the war: “No wander Kurtz put weed up the Command’s ass. The war was being run by a bunch of four-star clowns who were gonna end up giving the whole circus away…The bullshit piles up so fast in Vietnam you need wings to stay above it.” Going up the river, Willard can see “why Kurtz got off the boat, why he split from the whole fucking program “. Willard sees the horror of the Vietnam War and realizes that it is a big lie. We see that Kurtz refused to be a part of lies. He says it in the beginning of the film: “…What do you call it when the assassins accuse the assassin? They lie. They lie and we have to be merciful…” He proves Willard that ‘they’ lie when he reads him out the Times article describing the Vietnam War as being in order and that the Americans are making progress.

Kurtz is a very complicated and a controversial character. On the surface, he is insane, as the commanders already decide in the beginning of the film:

”He took matters into his own hands…Out there with these natives; it must be a temptation to become a God. Because there’s a conflict in every human heart between the rational and irrational…between good and evil and good does not always triumph…Every man has got a breaking point. Even you [Willard] and I and Colonel Kurtz as reached his. And he has obviously gone insane.”

The viewer also decides that Kurtz is crazy and insane. He deserted the military. He is almost an animal, removed from the “civilization” at the mouth of the river, having the role of some kind of a God figure to the natives of Cambodia. He lives in some kind of a cave, surrounded with natives and dead bodies, heads lying all around, himself acting with primordial instincts (as when he brings Chef’s head to Willard’s lap) and being out of touch with morality (when Willard looks through Kurtz’s script after he killed him and finds a note written in red ink: Exterminate them. Exterminate them all). Kurtz befriends the horror. Yes, Kurtz is “on the edge of a straight razor” in a way, but we have to keep in mind that he is a warrior. Warriors kill. They have to. And we also have to keep in mind that as a warrior, that man went back in time to reality because he could not stand the lies of the Vietnam War although he was a soldier decorated with high honors and great achievements in the military. He tells that in the letter to his wife and son:” I am beyond their timid, lying morality, and so I am beyond caring.” He couldn’t stand the insanity and the horror of the people involved in the war. And what he is trying to do now, as is Coppola with the whole movie “The Apocalypse Now”, is to make us look at the truth directly. From this perspective, he is definitely not insane. He went away from the war, back to the beginning.

As I mentioned, Kurtz is a complicated character and quite controversial. We, the viewers can see the absurdity of the war. We can see all the lies. And so does Kurtz. As further up the river we go, the more we see that Kurtz deserts the “civilized world” because he found it so “uncivil.” He removed himself from the corruptness and went to the primordial beginnings. The viewer comes to a point of dilemma concerning the insanity of Kurtz just as Willard himself, going up that river, starts doubting it. That dilemma obviously shows that there is something beyond Kurtz’s insanity and that what ever it is; it is powerful. There is something sane in his insanity. Willard himself feels that and begins to be like Kurtz, but in the end, after he kills Kurtz, he refuses to be like him. He drops the machete and leaves the native temple. The true apocalypse of the insanity takes place as the natives drop their weapons as well. The insanity has come to an end.

The film, demonstrating the insanity of war, suggests that savagery is not so far away. The savages in the movie are, interestingly, not the natives. They are the American soldiers. The darkness can easily refer back. We all have the capacity to do bad stuff, even to become Kurtz.

To me he just seemed to want to remove away from the savagery of America and the war in general into the primordial world where he can rule it without lies. But as I said, there is a lot of controversy in the character of Kurtz. Let’s just say that he is an insane man with sanity. His sanity, the truth he wants us to look at, can be cruel, but that’s the way things are. And he’s got a point about the absurdity of the whole war: “We train young men to drop fire on people, but their commanders…won’t allow them to write “fuck” on their airplanes…because…it is ‘obscene’!...The horror…The horror.

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