Today marks the 40th anniversary of the American theatrical release of the movie that’s in the Top Ten of a lot of Best Of movie lists, Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Personally speaking… this movie is easily on my All Time Top Three. It’s in rotation with The Godfather and Star Wars —- I know, the most Basic Top Three.
And trust me: I did notice that two are by the same director, and all three came out in a narrow band in the 70’s. I do wonder how much of my personal tastes were informed by Gen-X sensibilities, and in particular publications aimed at Gen-X’ers — *cough cough AV Club* — naming these the best of all time quite consistently.
I will say, though, that Apocalypse Now hadn’t originally been on my Top Three list. (Hmmm… what would’ve been on there as Number Three? Robocop, probably.) This may be because my very first exposure was the slow and plodding Apocalypse Now Redux. Do you think Lucas nerfed the Star Wars franchise with his remastered editions? It was nothing compared to Apocalypse Now Redux. However, there is a key difference: I can still watch the original movie. The original moves far more swiftly. Stakes ramp up and, like the protagonist, you feel events quickly slipping out of your control.
Apocalypse Now adapts
William Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness but updating it to what, then, was recent history. (It’s easy to forget that, as Apocalypse Now feels very much like a period piece.) It’s a powerful statement on the Vietnam War. It’s a dreamlike descent into Hell. It’s the director’s own emotions on the catastrophe that was the making of this movie. It’s all these and more! Plus a Harrison Ford appearance that surprised me this time around. Why didn’t I notice that he was in this movie before?
It’s not necessarily an accurate war movie. It’s a little too abstract at points for that. It doesn’t need to be. If you want realism, Ken Burns did a very good multi-part documentary on that era.
Apocalypse Now is a reflection of what it’s like to steadily lose your mind… and helmed by a director who was doing just that during the famously troubled shoot. It’s where your moral code is whittled piece by piece until the psychedelic sounds of Jim Morrison crescendos while you slash at an old man.
It’s terrifying. At the same time, it’s beautiful in its terror. When they arrive at that bridge, Martin Sheen encounters men who are in a glassy-eyed stupor. And yet, the explosions lighting the night sky are rather majestic. Part of losing yourself is accepting that the darkness is alluring.
On my latest rewatch, I considered the similarities the movie had to The Odyssey. How each is a set of vignettes, growing darker from one moment to the next as crew members die off. The journey takes them farther and farther from home until they enter the mouth of Hell itself.
Today’s prompt: What are your Top Three favorite movies of all time?
As always, feel free to discuss any movie here.