Faith and Madness

Apocalypse Now. This is the film I was least excited to see again in my film history class. War, Vietnam…and I saw it so long ago, I don’t remember loving it. I do remember however, really liking Hearts of Darkness, the documentary about the making of Apocalypse Now. And, since I first viewed the film I have read Heart of Darkness as well as the extraordinary Things Fall Apart, which was a native sort of response to Conrad’s book. So to come back to this film is interesting and not something I would have likely done on my own. I love school for this sort of opportunity.

 After all those qualifiers I will simply say – this is a remarkable film. First of all Coppola’s use of music is fantastic, I don’t even like The Doors but the opening sequence has got to be one of the best ever made. The music that overlays the beastly helicopters and chemical haze over the impossible natural beauty of Vietnam is melded together with such delicate contrary juxtaposition that the overall effect is highly artistic and  very moving.

“There is no way to tell his story without telling my own.”

Truer words were never spoken. Anytime we share a story or artistic interpretation we cannot help but insert ourselves into the very heart of it. We are discovering the journey of the renegade Kurtz while we are experiencing the journey of Captain Willard, at the same time that we are aware of the journey of Coppola, Joseph Conrad, perhaps even Chinua Achebe and the whole history of imperialism, colonization, wars, battles, oppressions- and, of course, it is our journey as well. What does a clash of civilizations look like, how do we force ourselves into other countries, into other people, into our own hearts?   Confronted with the brutalization of “lying morality” as Kurtz so beautifully writes to his son, how do we react?

The question is- how does one react to madness? It would seem that the only logical or at least predictable answer is- with madness.

And there is madness in our method. We simply – keep following the orders, keep moving. In one of the funniest sequences Coppola himself has a cameo as a news cameraman who is hysterically yelling to the soldiers, “Don’t look at the cameras, just go through- like you’re fighting!” That’s it.  Just go through. Go through the motions, even if you are pretending or pretending to be pretending, keep following the orders. And for God’s sake do not think. If you start to think of what you are doing, you end up like Kurtz. And he is scary.

But it’s hard not to. Coppola makes us feel the discomfort. His extreme close ups are wince inducing. The constant pearls of sweat, dark corners, and manic moments of facsimiles of joy all create an inner nervous condition. We’re not really crazy; we want to escape the madness. The feeling of creeping nausea tells us so. Maybe drugs will suppress the feeling, maybe we will just die inside, but the body knows. There is no real faking it.

“You have all my faith.” Possibly my favorite line ever uttered in a film. We all have faith, some give it to their God, some to the Earth, and some risk giving it to someone they love. There is no greater expression of love. Kurtz gives it to his son. After all that he has seen and knows he has nowhere else to lay down his core: he burdens his son with it, reversing the natural flow of a parent/child relationship. After his fellow man has so utterly failed, he is forced to turn to the innocence of his own child.

You have all my faith. It is everything.

And if faith is lost, what then? I hope you never know.


4 responses to “Faith and Madness

  1. I have always looked at this film as Coppola’s protest against American military foreighn policy. I don’t think he was terribly impressed with the move to go to Vietnam, and the way it was done probably seemed analagous to the Spanish Conquistadors invasion of the Americas in his eyes.

    I’ve never heard his take on it. Did he ever explain personally explain his motives behind the film?

  2. You should watch Hearts of Darkness. He talks at length about his motives and also the parallel Apocalypse that was the process of making the film which his wife caught on film. It is the primal myth story of death and rebirth and also a reflection on morality- very much an anti-war, anti-military, anti-madness film. Taken together the small picture and big picture are perfectly in synch – as always.

  3. another great post, thanks. A lot of parallels with Werner Herzog’s Fitzcaraldo & the film on its making. Both fuelled by the madness of war, the present and the past respectively.

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