Welcome to our final day of our study in the life and work of Marlon Brando. Today we look into the film Apocalypse Now…that word film doesn’t truly describe Apocalypse Now though. It is more of an experience. It has surpassed the realm of mere movie and more a thing of obsession for many people. Trust me…you can go way too far down the rabbit hole with this thing! Not only is there the theatrical version of “Apocalypse Now” but there is also a “Redux” cut which is longer and denser AND there is a full making of documentary. Not to mention the original source material “Heart of Darkness” and countless reviews and dissections of this film (add one to the list).
The plot is very simple: During the height of Vietnam, Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) is sent on a mission to take a small platoon on a boat into the thick of Cambodia to assassinate a defective Colonel Kurtz (Brando). To simplify it even more: it’s like the Saving Private Ryan if they were setting out to kill Ryan. But of course along the journey, the platoon encounters numerous morally-grey situations and tragedies befall. As they get deeper in the jungle, the darker their interactions become and the darker their souls turn. A common comparison/theory I have heard many times is that the journey is similar to Dante’s Inferno and the seven layers of Hell.
Like the “Godfather“, the film has so many iconic moments you almost forget they are all from Apocalypse Now. Wagner’s Flight of the Valkaries playing over the speakers of the helicopters, Sheen’s almost dismal narration through out the film, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” are so parodied its almost unrecognizable as original when watching the movie. And, of course, the superb acting of Brando as the melodramatic, philosophical, and humid Col. Kurtz. I defy you to not be rapt by his droning (even non-sensical) monologue in the sparsely lit, “ladle-drenching” scene in which Willard is captured and finally meets the mysterious Col. Kurtz. The way he elongates his thoughts is mesmerizing.
“You are an errand boy…sent by grocery clerks…to collect a bill.”
This statement alone sums up not only Kurtz’s philosophy on the U.S. military but also his apathy toward his soon-to-be-murderer and his own mortality. Although, Brando is sparsely used in the movie, the build up to the grandeur of Col. Kurtz could not be executed by any other actor working at the time.
Even more interesting than the film itself is the infamous chaos surrounding it. The first line of the documentary Heart of Darkness is a quote from Francis Ford Coppola:
“This movie is not a film about Vietnam…it was Vietnam.”
Among the typhoons, disease and Martin Sheen almost dying (no lie y’all), in steps Brando and his diva-like personality. For starters, when the casting for Col. Kurtz began, he was described to be a formidable man both of stature and personality. Think A Street Car Named Desire but with salt and pepper hair. So it was much to everyone’s surprise when off steps the plane a chubby, unkempt Brando. He also refused to work with the originally written scenes, requiring he and Coppola to hide themselves away in a trailer for two days as they hammered out the lines that are in the film today. As infuriating as this must have been at the time, the results are perfect for this story.
This concludes our look into the great Marlon Brando! What are your thoughts on our picks? Did we leave one out? Did you go into Superman (1978) dying to see his take on Jor-El (I mean who doesn’t love floating-head Brando)? Are you a fan of Apocalypse Now>The Island of Dr. Moreau? Are you the only one who likes that movie? If so, let us know! You can check us out on FaceBook and Twitter! If you have any suggestions for who we should Spotlight next – actor, director, writer, cinematographer, composer – let us know that too!