Thursday, December 9, 2010

The End of Apocalypse

The slow-moving opening sequence of Coppola's Apocalypse Now is a dizzying combination of cinematography, music and images, putting the audience inside the crazed mind of a fucked-up Army Captain, too high and drunk to fight and too embedded in the war culture not to. 

Helicopters float forth and back across the edge of a green-canopied jungle of palm trees, napalm is dropped. Cue the music.  Robby Krieger's slow, mellifluous notes begin the familiar soundtrack; enter Densmore's cymbals. The Lizard King begins, "This is the end..."  Wait a minute Jim, hold on Francis, this is the beginning, right?  
A man's face, large and looming, dissolves in, upside-down with eyes closed; while some strange stone monument does the same on the opposite side of the frame. What are we supposed to do with these images?  Everything I learned tells me to assume the man, as yet unnamed, is dreaming.  Clue 1: closed eyes. Clue 2: dissolves.  If so, are these other images, the napalm explosion, the jungle, the stone head, all within the man's dream?  What about the music?  Does it come from the soundtrack, appropriate non-diegetic music to aide the viewer's experience? Or is that too coming from within this person's mind, an internal diegetic piece of a dream?  Notice that there are no traditional opening credits or titles, telling us the name of the film or who the actors are. (The title of the film actually appears as graffiti toward the end of the film on a rock within Kurtz's compound.)    
The answers will have to wait.  In fact, the questions probably come to few, if any, viewers upon first screening.  It's not until the final sequence, after Willard assassinates Kurtz, that we are once again shown these images.  Then, thinking back, a very large, stone issue appears.  When, in the end, we see the same stone head that dissolves in at the beginning of the film we have to wonder where the image came from.  If the stone head, as most people assume it is, is a statue on the Kurtz compound, then how in tarnation can it appear in Willard's dream/drug induced hallucination at the start of the film?
It is possible that the beginning of the film is, in fact, the end of the story.  These images and sounds we are "introduced" to when we put the DVD on are part of the end of Willard's story and occur after he returns from the mission to kill Kurtz.   
This is a man who is stuck in war.  The sounds and images of the ceiling fan in his hotel room blend with the images and sound of war chopper blades, in and out.  
During quiet parts of this sequence we hear sounds of the jungle: tree frogs/crickets, wind through trees, etc...It's subtle but noticeable.  All sounds which come from Willard's mind.  

During the frenzied, spastic, half-nude dance in the room, he self-destructively punches and breaks the mirror (symbolically destroying his own image), bloodies his right fist and then wipes the bright red blood all over his face and nude body. His jarring, spastic movements almost rhythmically match the chaotic crescendo of the song.  At one point he even seems to mouth one of Jim Morrison's famous grunts as he completes a clumsy tai chi move.  He falls exhausted, the song winds down as well.  This song is playing from inside the maniac mind. 

The images, the sounds, the Doors!  The beginning is the end.

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