‘Apocalypse Now,’ final cut, maintains its memorable, powerful impact
- Written by Diane Carson
When I reminisce about memorable cinematic experiences, I always include Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now,” the original, two and a half hours, 1979 release and the 2001 “Redux” version, almost an hour longer. Now, with Coppola’s supervision, comes the dazzling 4K “Apocalypse Now: Final Cut,” running just over three hours. Whatever the length, this qualifies as a masterpiece.
Interpreting Joseph Conrad’s brilliant, symbolically rich, 1899 “Heart of Darkness” novella, Coppola employs archetypes to dramatize an experience—war—for which no comparison exists. Repeatedly the camera thrusts the viewer, helpless, confused, appalled, and with disconcerting immediacy, into monstrous scenarios impressively edited and scored. Stylistically and thematically bold, haunting excess and chaos confront and embody the tragedy of Vietnam. And yet “Apocalypse Now” isn’t really about Vietnam but about our desperation, by 1979, to distance ourselves from the war by retreating to myth, to escape the horror of the war by reimagining it.
Captain Benjamin L. Willard’s mission to find U.S. Army Special Forces Colonel Walter E. Kurtz upriver gives him purpose as he moves from the real to the increasingly surreal. Questioning authority vs. following orders, hedonistic indulgence vs. rigid structure, the primitive vs. the “civilized”—tension resides in all these dichotomies.
Volumes have been written on “Apocalypse Now,” interpreting its every nuance. None of our intellectualizing should, for a minute, forget that emotionally this film is a haunting, searing nightmare. So too was its production. It’s fitting, then, that the weekend presentation begins with the documentary “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse” by George Hickenlooper, Eleanor Coppola, and Fax Bahr. Integrating and commenting on unstaged footage shot by Coppola’s wife Eleanor during the Philippine’s shoot, it reveals the numerous, disastrous events that all but shut down the entire production.
“Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse” screens at 7:30 Thursday, August 25, and “Apocalypse Now: Final Cut” screens Friday, August 26 through Sunday, August 28 at 7:00 p.m. each evening at Webster University’s Winifred Moore auditorium. For more information, you may visit the film series website.