Comment on the explicit or implicit ideological and moral basis for one or more Hollywood films of the same genre, and on how its stance is conveyed through narrative, characterisation and/ or mise-en-scene.
Film Genre To Be Studied: War (Mainly In The Sub-Genre Of The Vietnam War.)
Films Included In Study:
Apocalypse Now (1979) – Produced / Directed by Francis Ford Coppola.
Casualties Of War (1989) – Produced / Directed by Brian De Palma.
Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb
(1964) – produced / Directed by Stanley Kubrick.
Full Metal Jacket (1987) – Produced / Directed by Stanley Kubrick.
Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, Brian De Palma’s Casualties of War and Francis ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, are all films made in the tradition of the innovative Young Lions group of film-makers. Not only do the films constitute a critique of the Vietnam war (1954-75,) but also bring into question the very ideological fabric of an aggressive, expansive and socially regimented post-war America.
These films are original in their moral and ethical emphases, and in their portrayal of the results of war; they often contain the action demanded by cinema audiences, but also emphasise its corresponding brutality and suffering. The films are certainly far removed from the American-made World War II films of the sixties and seventies (such as A. Hiller’s Tobruk – 1967, and J. E. Levine’s A bridge too far – 1977,) which, in contrast to films such as Palma’s Casualties of war 1989, contain less emphasis on human suffering or injury. This bias in portraying the horrors, rather than heroics of war, is a recent, and perhaps unparalleled phenomena, virtually atypical of traditional action-orientation of films like Oliver Stone’s Platoon, or the propagandist, and morally polarised films of the post-war era that sought to justify, glorify and sanctify the World War II effort. Films such as Coppola’s Apocalypse Now are not only nonconformist in their rejection of government propaganda and approved ethical views, but also seek to question the psyche of western civilisation – the inherited belief, from the Christian era to imperialism, that European society not only controls the balance of world power, but is a model for other, inferior non-European peoples.
In these films, the justifiability of American intervention is often ambiguous. The hypocrisy of the war’s ethical basis is constantly exposed – by direct criticism from American soldiers, seen in Joker’s interviews in Full Metal jacket, and in indiscriminate atrocities committed by the Americans on Vietnamese civilians. In Apocalypse Now, the Americans are not in Vietnam to fight but to surf. Following the rape of Casualties of war, the sadistic Clerk tells Eriksson to remain silent, what happens in the field stays in the field. War itself is a hunt, rather than a bloody necessity, the airborne cavalry corps, playing Wagner’s Flight of the Valkyries to terrify the shit out of the gooks, makes a detour on the way to an ideal surfing point, annihilating a village under the macho precision of Col. Killgore. war is also a team-game, or sport – as seen in Captain Touchdown’s comment that we’re still getting some really excellent kills here. In contrast to the gung-ho Americans, the Vietnamese are usually portrayed sympathetically. Simple Vietnamese villagers are always innocents, for whom the war is a calamity. Similarly, viet-Cong soldiers are usually portrayed objectively, and occasionally – as in the sniper scene of Full Metal jacket, as defenders of their country against western imperialism.
The Vietnamese are often shown as an oppressed people, seen in the indiscriminate killing of civilians by the air-corps in Full Metal Jacket, and in the brutal rape, then merciless execution-style killing of Oahn in casualties of war. Despite an obvious emphasis on the brutality of the American army in Vietnam, there is, however no clear polarisation between the two forces as good or bad; the process of war itself is seen as a force which induces the emergence of the contained savagery in human kind. In war, men and women are not human, but simply killing machines. Savagery as a consequence of war is seen in Apocalypse Now, where Clean shoots the passengers of an inspected boat, and in Full Metal jacket, where the Vietnamese girl sniper, (with the same kind of grimace seen in the psychotic Pyle,) engages in a gun battle with the advancing marines.
For the Americans, this dehumanising process is two-fold.
In Full Metal Jacket, the recruits of the American army undergo a process of psychological training and indoctrination, which breaks down the soldiers’ civilised psyche, and the reservation to kill. The quality of the marine is measured by physical and psychological criteria – seen in Joker’s suggestion that Pyle is a Section Eight.
Sgt. Heartman’s main job is to transform American citizens into killing machines, although he and the army are often unaware of the thin divide between madness and sanity when the civilised mind is stripped of all moral compulsions, and the inner, primitive capacity to kill is unleashed:
It is your killer instinct that must be harnessed.. it is the hard heart that kills. FMJ
The psychologically conditioned soldier is seen in Meserve of Casualties of war, who bellows at his enemies when he fights. In Apocalypse Now, Willard is the product of moral-effacing indoctrination; he is an assassin – a professional killer, and is quite able to shoot the wounded Vietnamese girl, rather than endanger his mission by seeking medical aid. The mission to terminate Kurtz tests his allegiance to duty and military necessity, but it is also a testament to psychological conditioning that he is finally able to terminate Kurtz’s command. Kurtz asks willard if he is an assassin:
Kurtz – Are you an assassin?
Willard – I’m a soldier.
The second aspect of the dehumanising process for the Americans, is the encounter with Vietnam. The brutality and suffering witnessed by the American soldier seems to push his already psychotically conditioned psyche beyond the limits of sanity. The thin divide between sanity and madness, maintained only through the discipline and rhythm of army training and convention, cannot counter the shattering horror of Vietnam. In casualties of War, the veterans Clerk and Meserve, who have witnessed bloody mutilation and death, abduct, rape and methodically kill a Vietnamese girl. Their action illustrates a cynical depreciation for human life. Meserve, in a parody of David’s psalm, describes the hostile combat environment, where only the fittest survive:
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of evil I shall fear no death, ‘cos I’m the meanest mother fucker.’ CW
In Full Metal Jacket, Animal Mother wants to leave the Vietnamese sniper to bleed to death, but ironically, Joker out of a humanity Animal has lost, decides to end her suffering.
You’re real heard core Joker.
For the Americans, the conflict between their own civilised psyche, and the reality of a destructive, alien and hostile environment has the simple effect of breaking down moral, ethical and religious convictions. This is seen in Apocalypse Now, where the renegade Col. Kurtz, like his name sake in Conrad’s novel Heart Of Darkness, has gone mad, and become chief of a primitive forest tribe; his moral and ethical breakdown is the consequence of his horrific experiences in Vietnam. Kurtz’s psychological breakdown does not, however arise entirely from a survival or killer instinct, unleashed by his experiences, but also from a scepticism those experiences have fostered – in the supposed validity and morality of Western ethics, and the sanctity of human life itself. His display of Vietnamese heads on sticks, and presentation of the head of chef to Willard, demonstrates this moral degeneration:
I am beyond morality, above caring AN.
For Kurtz, this scepticism of Western ethics, dogma and conditioning, is extended to his embrace of a predatory cosmic order, in which the only real virtue is an ability to survive. Kurtz admires Willard because he has survived the Dantesque journey to Kurtz’s domain:
Journalist: The man really likes you.
Kurtz suggests that the government, fighting in Vietnam for its own strategic and ideological purposes lacks real ethical motive, and is nothing more than an assassin itself:
The assassin accuses the assassin.
Kurtz is the antithesis of full Metal jacket’s Sgt. Heartman. Whereas Heartman is the epitome of controlled brutality and indoctrinated discipline, Kurtz is a killer without any method at all, a parody of an ambitious military career.
The horror of Vietnam estranges the soldier from all ethical pretensions or allegiances to the institutions he has been taught to worship. This conflict is seen in Pyle’s confrontation with the brutal Sgt. Heartman in Full Metal jacket, and in Chief’s dying attempt to kill Willard in Apocalypse Now. Kurtz, a high ranking officer whose defection to savagery threatens the army’s ethical authority over its forces, is the supreme example of a section eight who turns on the institution that has bred him.
have you ever considered any real freedoms and the opinions of others? Even yourself? AN
When the soldier has realised the hollowness and artificiality of American ideology, all ethical justification for war becomes meaningless and futile. The disciplinary breakdown of soldiers, as seen in Meserve and Kurtz is almost inevitable. The tragedy of incidents such as the rape of Oahn in Casualties of War is a direct result of this ideological breakdown. Browning sums up the dilemma of the soldiers, suggesting that the only concern in Vietnam is survival:
First 30 days, you don’t know nothing, last 30 days you don’t give a shit. CW
The simple fact that the Vietnam conflict is fought over political ideologies suggests the meaningless of war. The absurdity of ideological warfare, is reflected in Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, where the manic general, Col. ripper, sends an aircrew to drop nuclear warheads on the USSR. The ensuing attempt to prevent Armageddon fails – because the Russians have put their bombs in the hands of a machine. Madness and dehumanised warfare is the basis of Kubrick’s critique of the ideological conflict between Communism and Democracy:
Col. ripper: I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids. Dr. S
In discussing the ideological basis of the films, it is perhaps necessary to remember the political climate during their production. The Cold War, which had risen to a head in the Cuban crises (between 1961-’62,) and increased military involvement in Vietnam (1965-’75,) had subsided by the late ‘seventies and early ‘eighties. Carter’s administration (1976-’80) had moved toward a peaceful settlement with the USSR. The election of Regan in 1980, ensured continued dialogue for reconciliation with the USSR and military disarmament; Gorbechov’s Glasnost (openness) and Perestroika (reconstruction) policies, also contributed enormously to the process of nuclear disarmament. It was in this climate of a maturing relationship between east and west that the films in this study were made. The critical emphasis they eschew – unthinkable during the ideologically polarised era of fifties America, is an expression of disgust with the consequences of the naive, propagandist schism of the civilised world, that resulted from the American establishment’s post-war fear of Communism. Repeated scenes of bloody mutilation and death add to this sense of disgust for ideological war – seen in the death of eightball in Full Metal Jacket, the slow-motion display of Browning’s fatal injuries in Casualties of war, and the reverie of Eriksson amongst mutilated soldiers in the medic tent.
The rise of the new youth culture of the ‘sixties and ‘seventies, sometimes called the baby boom era, is also reflected in the films’ ideology of reconciliation and rejection of ideological expansionism. This generation is portrayed most aptly in Full Metal jacket’s Pv. Joker, whose concern for world peace is illustrated in his peace badge. The anti-nuclear and anti-war emphasis is something common to Kubrick’s films – seen in his satire on the absurdity of war in Full Metal Jacket, and Dr. Strangelove.
The youthful innocence of the soldiers in Vietnam, whose age averaged nineteen, is also a damning criticism of the American effort – seen in the death of Cherry in Casualties of War, and of the boy Clean in Apocalypse Now. The protagonists of these films are children, for whom the prospect of war is a game; it is only following training, and exposure to the full horror of war that its reality becomes apparent, and the conflict between army discipline and the ethic-effacing effects of bloody slaughter take place. In Full Metal jacket, one of Cowboy’s platoon describes the army as:
Jolly green giants, walking the earth with guns. FMJ
Similarly, the film taken by Joker of the marines at war prompts comparison between the soldiers and children at play:
I’ll be General Custer… Who’ll be the Indians?
Joker wonders why senior officers never seem to fight, but, instead sacrifice the young for the cause:
Joker: Maybe you should get in the shit sir.
Animal Mother, from Full Metal Jacket also questions the basis of ideological war – Rafter man suggest that their comrades died for a good cause: freedom. Animal is more sceptical:
What cause was that? …If I’m gonna get my balls blown off for a word, my word is poontang. FMJ
At times, American ideology is itself seen as a force of destruction in Vietnam. The rape of casualties of War, and other atrocities committed by American troops on innocent Vietnamese seem to condemn the whole process of military intervention. The impact of American culture is also seen as a corruptive influence on the Vietnamese. The city of Da Nang in Full Metal Jacket is littered with adverts, posters and all the trappings of a democratic and mercantile society. The appearance of prostitutes also adds to this impression of a degenerate Westernised Vietnam. The Vietnamese boy who steals Rafterman’s camera, and accompanying soundtrack from These boots were made for walkin, suggests Vietnam’s transition into a selfish consumer society:
You keep saying you got something for me
The rape of the Vietnamese girl by Meserve and his accomplices in Casualties of War, and imposition of a giant music auditorium in the jungle in Apocalypse Now, suggests a violation of both the social and environmental innocence of Vietnam by the American army.
Although it is possible to draw conclusions concerning the ideological and moral framework of the films in a collective manner, it is also necessary to consider the films’ individual emphases.
In Full Metal jacket, Kubrick is particularly interested in the conflict between social morality and the dehumanising process of military indoctrination, and between the gung-ho American warrior and bloody reality he encounters in the jungles of Vietnam. Kubrick’s main vehicle in illustrating this conflict is the character Joker (Matthew Modine,) who never submits entirely to the dehumanising drill of Paris Island. One of the first impressions we have of Joker is his parody of on Sgt. Heartman, John wayne is this me? We accept joker as an authoritative narrator, because he is ironically praised by the very institution he parodies:
hell, I admire your honesty.. You can come round my house and fuck my sister.
The film contains two main parts, the training of raw recruits on Paris island, and the encounter for several of these marines with Vietnam and war.
In the first part, the recruits are shaved, this physical manifestation of the dehumanising process symbolises the clinical efficiency of army indoctrination. Heartman’s inspection of the troops deprives them of individuality, they will become Ministers of death, praying for war:
You will not laugh, you will not cry, you will learn by the numbers. FMJ
Heartman’s abuse, a methodical interrogation of each marine in turn is not only intended to break down the personality of the recruit, but also to infuse them with the raw passion of the killer:
Let me see your war face. Arrrrrgh! That’s A war face, now let me see your war face.
Heartman’s drill forcibly realligns the ethical framework of the recruit; physical and psychological abuse are elemental to the conditioning process that will produce killers. The basic effect of this process is to undermine the moral compulsions of the individual under the monotony of indoctrinated ideology, and to induce a basic psychology of violence:
The marine corps does not want robots, the marine corp wants killers, men without fear. (Joker,) FMJ
The process of making killers is integral to army training – the marching chants are a form of combined political, ethical and moral indoctrination. The early chants concern ties of duty, loyalty and devotion to the corps and institutions of American society:
I love working for Uncle Sam, …let’s me know just who I am…
One, two, three, four, I love Marine corp…
Later chants suggest the development of the recruits into heardened killers – men for whom the marine corp is not only a marital substitute, but a religion; the prospect of death is almost parodied by Heartman:
If I die in the combat zone, box me up and ship me home.
Heartman’s indoctrination realligns the entire psychology of his recruits; American democracy iand the evils of communism are polar opposites, the troops chant anti-communist slogans:
Ho Chi Minh is a son of a bitch…
Christian ethics, and the sanctity of life are replaced by a brutal, unprohibitive psychology, kept in check only through army dicipline. The discussion on famous american murderers illustrates the incapacity of Heartman to realise the narrow divide between sanity and madness in the indoctrinated mind. Heartman’s comment that the recruits will all be great marksmen is synchronised with a shot of Pyle’s face; Heartman’s comment, and Pyle’s expression suggest that Pyle has gone over the edge of regimental psychosis:
And you will all be able to do the same thing.’
The recruits’ sexual drives are realigned to desire copulation with war. Heartman instructs the marines that the m.14 gun will be their only pussy from now on. Guns are given a girl’s name, and the gun is constantly discussed with sexual reference. The drill where the recruits march chanting This is my rifle this is my gun, blurs the distinction between the phallus and the instrument of death:
You will give this weapon a girl’s name… you will be married to this weapon of iron and wood.
Religion is also given its own military perspective by Heartman. Christianity is an ideological basis for the justification of war, seen in Chaplain Charlie’s sermon on the evils of communism, and in Heartman’s constant reference to the Catholic faith – a religion particularly concerned with the polarisation of good and evil. The recruits must pray to, then sleep with their rifles each night, every aspect of their psychology must incorporate violence:
This is my rifle, there are many like it but this one is mine, my rifle is my best friend, it is my life.’
Joker is the main focus of the indoctrination process, he is not however an average marine, but is also an intellectual, capable of assuming the role of a killer, whilst retaining his inner ethical framework. This individualist survival is seen in his satirical John Wayne imitations on the army:
Listen up pilgrim, a day without blood is a day without sunshine.
Joker’s humanity is seen in his support of the incumbent marine Pv. Pyle. Pyle’s weaker psyche crumbles under the indoctrination process, his mind crosses the threshold of sanity, because he lacks the inner discipline to passively accept the brutalising process. If heartman is the epitome of military indoctrination, Pyle is the product of that system, and a warning into the dangers of American psychological conditioning – something which has bred many psychopathic killers:
Do any of you know who Lee Harvey Oswald was?
Pyle’s continued abuse from Heartman and his fellow marines force him into the rhythm of army activity – his graduation is not due to the propaganda chants of devotion to Uncle Sam, but to the brutality of his conditioning:
Pyle, you had better unfuck yourself, and start shitting me tiffany cufflinks, or I will definitely fuck you up!
Pyle’s deadly confrontation with Heartman is one between a lunatic and the institutional monster that created it. Even to the last, Heartman cannot understand the internal forces he dabbles with in making spare parts for Uncle Sam’s lean green killing machine:
Pv. Pyle, what is your malfunction?
Pyle’s constant abuse is the only reality he can see. The world outside Paris island is forgotten – Pyle’s reality is that of the machine killer, without the disciplinary trappings of drill:
I am… in a world of shit.
Paris Island is regimental and clinical in its observance to form and regulation. The scene where Pyle is beaten by the marines illustrates the emotionless psychology of Parris Island. The mise-en-scene here is particularly effective, with the camera moving slowly across the dark, azure walls of the barracks to rest overhead on Pyle’s body. The synthesised drip and reverberation of water heightens the sense of tension for the viewer, suggesting the cold, emotionless resolve of the marines to methodically beat Pyle. The scene is also a psychological landscape, suggesting the clinical efficiency of a cold, inhuman consciousness at work in the very fabric of the institution. The use of soap, an image of sterility, held in towels to beat Pyle suggests the impending effacement of Pyle’s individuality and moral framework. The effects of the beating are seen in Pyle’s obsession with the cleanliness of his equipment, also a prelude to madness. Form this point on, Pyle’s eyes never seem to focus, or look directly at others – stressing the alienation he has undergone:
Everything perfect, everything nice, clean, oiled
The hypocrisy of the army ethic of brotherhood is constantly exploited by Kubrick in his satire on the realities of the democratic system. Pyle is abused for leaving his locker unlocked. This is a community of men who are isolated and cannot trust their neighbour. Similarly, in Da Nang, the mercantile, consumer orientated trappings of a decadent society suggest the hypocrisy of capitalism and democracy. The epitome of this condition is seen in the prostitute that approaches rafterman and Joker:
Hey, you got girlfriend Vietnam… I love you long time.
The second part of the film deals with Joker’s activities as a journalist for a war magazine. Again, Joker is portrayed as the intellectual – the critic, rather than the gung ho marine recruit. Joker’s pun that he should fabricate a story on a dead viet cong general satirises the uncertain ststus of America in Vietnam. Kubrick seems particularly concerned with exposing the pro-war propoganda used by the American government. The propoganda officer describes the purpose of his team:
It’s the why we’re here thing.
The Viet Cong Tet offensive, that broke the cease fire between Janurary and February 1968 is the focus of this episode in the film. The propoganda depatment beleive the Vietnamese will be beating gongs and visiting dead ancestors during the festive period; this naive, underestimation of the Viet Cong and Vietnamese culture generally preludes the fall of Saigon to North Vietnam, and the humiliating American withdrawl seen later. The song Chapel of Love parodies the naive beleif of the Americans in the Viet Cong ceasefire:
this is the big shit sanwitch and were all gonna have to take a bite.
At the Da Nang barrcks, Joker, still a recruit, meets the veterans. Payback is unconvinced by Joker’s gung ho remarks:
Don’t you guys listen to Joker, he’s never been in the shit.
In the Da Nang battle, Joker is seen firing an automatic gun through the portal of a firing trench, the men he kills are more images perceived through a screen than real men. This is still camp training – the close quarters horror of real war is yet to be tasted.
Joker’s peace badge is constantly criticised by superiors. The Conel Joker encounters at Hue asks him to forget peace until victory is achieved. This kind of union for the army, between peace and war is evoked in the recruits’ prayer that they will fight until there is peace. Joker refers to Jung, the psychologist whose works illustrate the inner capacity of man to simultaneously embrace civilisation and bloody conflict:
I think I was trying to suggest something about the duality of man, sir.
The choppper gunner accompanying Joker and Rafterman on the Hue trip indiscriminately kills Vietnamese civilians. The pride he takes in this is justified because his victims are Vietnamese:
You should do a story on men sometime – …cos I’m so fuckin great. I got me 151 dead gooks killed.
The lime pit scene is a turning point for Joker, whose religious scepticism forces him to contemplate the sheer madness of war:
The dead know only one thing, it is better to be alive.’
The encounter with Animal Mother poses a conflict for Joker, between his inner convictions and the brutality he is expected to harness as a killer. Animal Mother is an epitome of the soldier whose psychology has almost succumbed to the moral indifference of Kurtz:
You talk the talk, but do you walk the walk?
The video interviews are propaganda, they also indicate the ethical and artificial bases of the war, decided upon ideological grounds 20,000 miles away. Rafterman’s naive beliefs in idealised American supremacy, satirises America’s belief in its dominance as the pre-eminent world power:
Were the best, I mean, when the going gets tough, who do they call in? They call in Mother green and her lean green killing machine.
The psychology of the marine is innately psychotic, they do not seem to realise their own madness as institutional killers:
Joker I wanted to seen an ancient culture… i wanted to be the first kid on my block to get a confirmed kill.
The awesome ruins of Hue dwarf the marines as they advance into combat, this sense of an impenatrable environment also suggests the transience of modern civilisation, and emergance of a new order in Vietnam.
The burning building containing the girl sniper is also an effective example of mise-en-scene, the slow-motion shot of the girl firing at Joker is both shocking and disturbing.
The pursuit of war over ideology is seen both as perverse and absurd in this final sequence. This is a film that begins by criticising the destructive forces at work within a society based upon indoctrination and psychological condiitoning, and ends illustrating the devestation that results from the whole miasma of Western predjudice and intolerance of both communism and the individual within a uniform, regimented society.
The ending scene, in which the marching marines chant the mickey mouse club song, suggests the madness of any military conflict:
We have nailed our names in the pages of history
Casualties of war, based upon a true incident, is obviously a sensationalising film. Its concentration on maimed bodies, action and sex all seem to condemn Palma’s film as one which wants us to feel revulsion for the atrocity of war, but shows us the details in slow motion. The film does, however transcend the usual action orientation of similar films, and although the subject, a Vietnamese girl’s abuse and rape is portrayed graphically, we still find the film has a sound moral basis. Like Full metal Jacket, Casualties of war concerns the experiences of a newly arrived recruit in the forests of Vietnam. Erricson, Michael J. Fox, is Palma’s answer to Kubrick’s Joker. Despite occasional brash, indoctrinaire assertaions, (I went nuts…) Erricson maintains a steady grip on both army discipline, and his own internal morality, it is this ehtical survival when confronted with Vietnam, and the moral degeneration of his fellows that allows Palma, like Kubrick, to explore the alienation of the individual within a hostile and regimental society. Erricson’s religion is slightly artificial, but Palma’s point is clear:
We think it dosent matter what we do, but maybe its just the opposite. Maybe it matters more than we know.
Erricson’s friendliness with the Vietnamese ploughman and children evokes Joker’s peace badge, his naive beleif in the humanity of others contrasts sharply with the seasoned recruits, who dont give a shit after the first 30 days in vietnam. Both clerk and Meserve have abandoned both personal ethics and army discipline:
Total destruction is the only way to deal with them man.
The abduction of the Vietnamese girl is a violation of a less then human culture by the sadistic, playboy reading Americans. Like the recruits of Full Metal jacket, the abduction is like a game of play acting:
Hutch – Missserve, he’s just like Gengis khan… .
The ideological basis of war in Vietnam is a sham, seen in Meserve’s assertion that they have caught a VC suspect.
The rape is a process of implication and indoctrination. Meserve institutionalises the act, reffering to it as the program.
Erricon’s armed response to the men’s threats prompts Meserve’s comment that affirms his brutal beleif in the validity of an environment of survival, where life is worthless unless it can prove itself:
Anybody can blow anybody away – which isd the way it ought to be, always.
The association of life as a commodity is seen in Hutch’s comparrison between the girl and a new bike.
The rape and execution of Oahn prompt Erricson to persue justice for the dead girl, erly attempts are unsucessful, because of the army’s wal of silence surrounding the incident. An abortive attempt on Erricson’s life asserts erricson’s claims, and we witness a retribution for clerk, who is hit by erricson with a shovel. The injustice of American establishment is seen at fault, reflected in the racial predjudice against Reilly:
They kept me in jail until my mind was literally turned around.
The resulting jail sentences for the offenders demonstrates a moral order at work through the morality of corageous individuals, when faced with the conspiratorial lies of the American establishment. The implication central to the film, is that all are casualties of the bloody horrors of war, and the psychologically destructive forces of institutional indoctrination. On one level, the innocent Vietnamese civilians suffer, on another, men like erricson are faced with the dimema of social alienation for upholding their views. This film is more than a condemnation of the ideological basis of the Vietnam war, it is also a social critique, begging individuals to maintain their ethical natures in a society often diven by less noble motives. The victory of erricson in recognising the mistakes of the past is also an emphasis on reconciliation with Vietnam, and the communist bloc – seen in Erricson’s retrieval of the girl’s scarf on thre bus.
Apocalypse Now, has a slightly more aesthetic quality than the other films. The film is is based upon Joseph Conrad’s novel, Heart of Darkness, in which Marlow, captain of a continental trading vessel working in the African Congo, describes his revulsion with nineteenth century imperialism, and the effects of encounter with wild Africa for the ivory-obsessed, unprohibited Westerner. Coppola’s Marlow is Captain Benjamin J. Willard (Martin Sheen,) whose mission is to assassinate the renegade Col. Walter E. Kurtz. Coppola’s film is an amalgam of the ideological and moral concerns of the previous two films and more. Willard is the veteran soldier, whose special missions have almost driven him beyond the threshold of sanity. His visions of the napalmed forests of Vietnam suggest Conrad’s impenetrable ocean-forests, which symbolise the vastness of an unconquorable wild. The tiny helicpoters seen in this apocalyptic scene suggest the futility of the American presence in Vietnam, an environment wholly alien to the incursive forces. The opening forest scene also suggests the madness of civilised war on the vastness of thenatural world. The helicopters are like files drawn to a flame, thsi apocalyptic impression is evoked in The Door’s music The End:
All the children, are insane.
The suureal, psychological landscapes of Apocalypse Now reflect the conflict between civilised pretensions and the savagery of both natural world and enemy. When Willard and Chef go looking for mangoes, they make a hasty retreat after encountering a lion. Penetration into the predatory forest environment reflects a corresponding mental degeneration into the primitive:
Never get out of the fucking boat, Not unless youre going all the goddamn way. Kurtz left the boad, he split from the whole goddamn program.
Willard, like Kurtz is attracted to the unhibited savagery of the jungle, his native dance, and distate for civilised life reflect this admiration for the psychological purity of the forest:
All I could think of was getting back into the jungle, waiting for a misssion.
At the base camp, willard is introduced to the life of the deified Kurtz, whose unsound methods, are an indictment to the destructive forces of the mlitary psyche. Although the officers define Kurtz as a madman, subject to A conflict in the inner heart between good and evil, willard is not convinced by this polarised differentiation of Kurtz’s condition, Kurtz’s crimes are no worse than any other pentagon sanctioned killer in Vietnam:
It was like handing out speeding tickets on the indy 5000.
willard’s companions on the journey to cambodia are all baby boom types, their vital display of American culture has yet to be effaced by the bloody horror of war:
he had only 2 ways home: death or victory.
The airborne division has a sporting outlook on war, the ethical justification for war is satirised in stetson-wearing Killgore’s effort to take a bay for surfing. The helicopters resemble Wagner’s Valkieries, an avenging Aryan horde inflicting precision slaughter on innocent vietnamese villagers, the toll of the village bell suggests the coming of an apocalypce. The low, ariel view of the smashed village illustrates well the indiscriminate skirmishing tactics of the American forces:
We’ll come out of the rising sun and well play wagner… scares the hell out of the gooks.
Like Joker, Killgore embodies both the destructive and healing capacity of man:
I want my wounded in the hospital in 15 minutes.
Killgore’s resolve that Someday, this war’s gonna end, is a sad reflecttion on the transience of war – like Cowboy’s comrade, the dilemma of war, is who to shoot after it’s over.
The river journey into Cambodia represents a further immersion into the primitive for the soldiers, their face paint and frequent explosions of conflict reflect their proximity to Kurtz, the epitome of moral and ethical degeneration, and distance from army discipline. The last bridge, built back up again each night, just to say the road’s open, suggests the futility of artificial ethical purpose in the vastness of Vietnam. like Kurtz, willard no longer adheres to conventional morality, but kills the injured boat woman rather than turn back. willard’s rejection of the sanctitiy of human life is, hovever due to a clinical military psyche, rather than kurtz’s unsolicited and random killing of those that threaten him. Willard’s disciplinarian methods of survival force his admittance of the hypocrisy of the American effort:
We blew them up, then gave them a band aid
The degeneration of Kurtz illustrates the amorality of the American establishment, an inner beastilaity elemental to the civilised psyche, which is constsntly exploited by the film makers in their portrayal of supposedly civilised atrocities, and in the predatory mercantile cultuure of American capitalism. Kurtz is not only the avatar of an innate western primitive, but also of its results following the subjection of Americans to one of the boodiest wars in american history. kurtz im[resses on willard a cynical view of American culture and the sabctity of human life itself, seen in his presentation of Chef’s head to Willard. Kurtz’s final horror is the vision of a cyclic predatory universe, a godless and entropy-doomed cosmos, even his earlier affirmation of the validity of strength is rejected:
The horror, the horror…
wilard, on the other hand has maintained at least the bare fabric of cosmic order, even if he has succcumbed to the passions of a primordial killer, usurping kurt’zs throne. The killing of Kurtz is still however, sanctioned by Uncle sam, Willard, although he rejects the military, will be reconciled with civilisation:
‘I was’nt even in their fucking army anymore.’
If the establishment-questioning hero of Apocalypse Now is Willard, The anti-hero of Apocalypse now is certainly Kurtz, whose descent into barbarism is the product of western ideolological agression. Like the cattle, Kurtz is sacrificed by the system that bred him for no other cause than an ideological disopute.
The self-effacing nature of the imperfect civilised psyche, is reflected in the ruins of ancient structures in Kurtz’s village. The film ends with The Door’s The End, suggetsing a warning to the apocalyptic prospect of nuclear war for the ideologically divided civilised world.
All the films have one major aspect in common, the madness of a war fought over the trivial conflict between ideals. The ensuing conflict is not so much a mutual defense against the other, but an intolerance of each other;s views. The main critique of the vietnam war, is not so much its ethical basis, but the manner in which it was fought, using massive indescriminate bombardment, resulting in massive civililian casualties. The naive, polar conceptions of war, and of the political systems that fought in Vietnam are also attacked in the films. Perhaps the films’ most contraversial aspect, however, lies in its condemnation of an establishment that breaks down individuality, imposing a regimented, and indoctrinted psychology on its citizens, committing aal kinds of atrocities and folly in the mindless preservation of the ideal.