Apocalypse Now: Final Cut is an Imperfect Masterpiece

Maciek J. Pradziad ’20

Contributing Writer

While the intro to The Doors’ song “The End” played, interspersed with images of the main character, Capt. Willard (Martin Sheen), a ceiling fan and clouds of fire swelling up the heart of the Vietnam jungle, I became instantly hypnotized. This beginning scene alone in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now: Final Cut is impressive because it foreshadows the complex themes of corroding humanity during times of war, alongside general political commentary against U.S imperialism, intervention and the horrors of war. Despite the masterful cinematic qualities that keep the plot and themes going, there are issues with pacing in this specific cut of the movie that hinder it from being as holistically perfect as the original. The plot of Apocalypse Now: Final Cut revolves around the general plot structure of John Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, where a specialized soldier, Capt. Willard, is sent on a mission to go upriver into the unknown of Vietnam to assassinate Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando), a once renowned, decorated soldier that went rogue and is deemed insane. This structure perfectly allows the audience to not only see the obvious horrors of war, but also the real-time deterioration of humanity from Capt. Willard, his crew members, and other soldiers who are in different stages of numbness and insanity.
The cinematography allows for these images to sink deep into the crevices of your subconscious because of the surreal approach this movie takes. As the characters go deeper into the jungle, the images on the screen become darker, more hectic and the camera will either capture these perfectly in one still frame, or it will start moving smoothly to put you under a trance. The addition of a Vietnam-era soundtrack also helps in this regard because a lot of music during this time was inherently psychedelic, allowing for the images and sound to mesmerize you in this nightmarish world.
The only real gripe I had with this cut of the movie was the implementation of the “French plantation” scene. This scene in particular ruined the pace of the movie because by the time it is shown, the characters are so deep in the river and their own minds that everything we see is inherently dark to reflect the larger metaphor. The tone of the film is then drastically undercut because the French plantation scene is bright, colorful, and expository by comparison. Not only does it ruin the immersion of the darkness that the audience was sucked into, but it explicitly tells you the main idea of the film, instead of letting the imagery speak for itself.
Apocalypse Now: Final Cut is an imperfect masterpiece that deserves to be experienced at least once in your life. It will burn images into your head about the fragility of the human psyche and the tragedy of war that cannot be erased, no matter how hard you try.
See this film at Cinestudio Tuesday, Sept. 17 at 7:00 PM. If not available, be sure to seek out the original, theatrical cut of Apocalypse Now on a multitude of streaming services.