It's hard to write about this film, because so much has already been written about it. It is a really beautiful film, and reminds me a lot about Aguirre, the Wrath of God. It has this visionary quality - Coppola takes the viewer into a new world that they never could experience on their own. Kurtz has gone to a mental place that I imagine few people can ever reach. As Ebert eloquently says, "The whole movie is a journey toward Willard's understanding of how Kurtz, one of the Army's best soldiers, penetrated the reality of war to such a depth that he could not look any longer without madness and despair" (The Great Movies, 38). That is not something myself or pretty much anyone I know can relate to. It is a foreign mentality, such madness, and it is fascinating to be able to see it. A gift.
The sequences in this film are so culturally ingrained (on me, at least) that it's hard to even describe the ones that are striking without sounding cliche. There is Duvall's insanity, of killing everyone on the beach for surfing, his refusal to duck or dodge explosions, of "napalm in the morning", which is hard to even say without sounding cliched. The fishing boat with the puppy. Flight of the Valkyries. "The horror, the horror."
This is a stupid thing to say, but sometimes I feel like most people I talk to have only ever watched the first act of this film. Once they get to Colonel Kurtz's playground, it's like they don't remember (I include myself in this - when I first saw this movie, I was 14 or 15, and I don't think I was mature enough to even think about the second act, especially with how movies like this are treated in high school, as vessels for quoting). The scenes above are the first act. The scenes I hear quoted are only the first act. They have to do with Robert Duvall. Other things that stick out in my mind that I didn't list above - the inoculated arms. "Ragged claws". The killing of the ox. The way the light plays across Kurtz's face while he talks. Scott Glenn with his shotgun, the solider sent to kill Kurtz who decided to stay, telling his wife "Sell the kids". I never hear about these things. Why is this? Is Kurtz's reality too disturbing, or is it simply that the action tapers off? I'm not going to answer. I don't have one. Ebert says that this "is the best Vietnam film, one of the greatest of all films, because it pushes beyond the others, into the dark places of the soul. It is not about war so much as about how war reveals truths we would be happy never to discover" (The Great Movies, 41). Maybe Ebert is naming the issue, that we don't want to go back and remember these dark, unsettling places. We return to something less disturbing. We remember something that is more comforting. These are just ideas, but I love them. Only a deeply visionary director like Coppola (and Herzog, with a film like Aguirre) can take us to this places and affect us so deeply. His work really challenges me to think about new things and ideas, and it gives me new emotions and new experiences I cannot have on my own.
I hope you maybe watch this film again, if you haven't in a while. From doing this project, I can see how affecting it is to think about films I am familiar with in a new light, to look at it fresh after a long time. It's shocking how much I have learned and discovered! I'd love to hear your thoughts about this incredible film.
|Watching a Coppola film and drinking his wine. I wonder if he would love this or hate this.|
Ebert's Great Movie Essay
T.S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men"
T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"
Wikipedia page for Heart of Darkness by Joesph Conrad
IMDB for Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmakers Apocalypse
(I've linked the Blu-ray version of this film, as I've read that it is the only version of this film in it's original aspect ratio, and I want it.)