Alex MancinoMs. TodiscoAP English2-24-12 Nine Francis Ford Coppolla’s movie, Apocalypse Now, is a gritty and heavily symbolicVietnam War drama. Coppolla portrays the horror of war along a river that echoes JosephConrad’s, Heart of Darkness. Throughout the story a broken up army general, Willard, issent on a mission up a river to assassinate a colonel who has gone mad. Through manytrials and tribulations, and a rapid descent into his own insanity, Willard does finallycomplete his mission, and frees himself. Through Willard’s journey Coppolla shapes hisargument about what war does to a man. Heshows how every man is capable of horriblethings, especially when his primordial instincts come out. Also he reveals that during warmen change, and become almost caricatures of what they once were just as Kurtz andWillard do. Coppolla develops his argument with the strong use of symbolism and strikingvisuals. Willard’s journey up the river is used to show his slow descent into insanity aswar wages all around him. The closer he gets to his target Kurtz, who has already takenthe same journey and has already gone insane, the more crazy Willard goes. At one pointWillard even callously kills a Vietnamese woman after searching her boat. Coppola’smovie is also known for its amazing use of visuals. Halfway through his journey up theriver Willard stops to refuel at an army base that is magnificently lit up, and where theG.I.’s can escape from the war. It’s symbolic of Willard’s last beacon of hope beforeWillard must journey into, “the heart of darkness.” When Willard finally reaches Kurtz’soutpost is when he has reached his breaking point. He has lost almost all his men, and the
horror of the war has finally gotten to him. It is not until he kills Kurtz that he is finallyfree from the madness he has had to endure since the war started. Coppola uses thesymbolic slaughtering of Kurtz to show Willard finally shedding the insanity that hasplagued him. It is as if killing Kurtz in turn, killed the worst part of Willard. Kurtz’s lastwords sum up Coppolla’s message about war perfectly, “the horror, the horror.” Even more obvious through the movie is Coppolla’s use of irony to show howthings become mixed up in the fog of war. A reappearing question throughout the movieis, who are the savages in this war? At one point colonel Kilgore calls the Vietnamesesavages after he just called a deadly helicopter strike on a beach just so he could surfthere. This theme reappears numerous times. The American soldiers think they aresaviors but they are destroying the entire country of Vietnam, in a war they wouldeventually lose. Also there is the question of, is it murder? Kurtz would say in war killingwith no emotion is necessary, but many soldiers cannot deal with that fact. Coppolla usesthis irony to show how Willard is constantly at battle in his mind trying to decide what isright and wrong, a decision that is very hard to make in a war zone. This all contributes tohis madness and eventual enlightenment. Most of us wont ever understand what it is like to be in war, and Coppola wouldtell us we are lucky for that. He so beautifully portrays the sense of horror and impendingdoom that soldiers feel. He shows us how killing for your country, is still plain oldkilling. His story is just about one soldier but it is meant to speak to all of them. Willard’sjourney is symbolic of the journey of every soldier in a war. It is a trip that will changeyou and question your saneness and humanity. Like Willard they must fight with the factthat they have to kill other humans no matter how it is justified to them.