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Apocalypse Now - Colleen May

Apocalypse Now is primarily a “commentary on the American identity: not just the corrupted American reality, but the American self-concept of a unique national idealism is itself a fraud, a cover for the brute drives for power that dominate Americans as much as any people� (Hellman, 1982). While poignantly portrayed in the context of Vietnam, Apocalypse now is about much more than the specific circumstances and tragedies of the war. Tomasulo (2001) seems to lack an understanding of this, the pervasive message of the film, as he focuses on analyzing Apocalypse Now as a pro-war and/or anti-war film; the film is more than that. The film’s hard-boiled detective formula, as described by Hellman (1982), “undermines the one dependable source of American order, the idealistic self-concept embodied in the ‘pure’ motivation of the formula hero.�
If Coppola’s goal was to help the American public gain an understanding of the war or gain some sense of closure about what happen, it failed miserably. Rather than promoting understanding and closure, the film does a better job of presenting the confusion and tragedy of the war. In doing so, the film provokes an evaluation of oneself and the human condition. The horror forces the question “why?�
The answer lies in the audience’s identification with characters. The “passion of Colonel Kilgore, the cool of Captain Willard, and the brutal honesty of Colonel Kurtz� do not serve a pro-war ideology that the war was simply mishandled because it lacked such characters, as Tomasulo would contend. Rather, these characters are a catalyst for understanding human emotions and motives, a rude awakening for the audience to exam not just the immorality of Americans, but of all people. Watching Colonel Kilgore and his men attack to the tune of a triumphant musical score does indeed invoke feelings of exhilarating superiority, but the subsequent horror of the destruction and killing of innocents obliges the sickening disgust of such feelings and results in their examination.
In that sense, the film is a commentary on something much greater than the specifics of Vietnam, human morality.