Searching For Meaning in Apocalypse Now
Francis Ford Coppola's film Apocalypse Now takes the audience into a tense and mystical journey through the Vietnam War. This long and agonizing journey is seen through the eyes of Captain Willard played by Martin Sheen. Sheen. Captain Willard is assigned to a mission that relies on him to assassinate Colonel Kurtz, who is played by Marlon Brando. Although Apocalypse Now is an examination of the many terrors of society that are connected to the Vietnam War, Coppola plays much of his film off Joseph Conrad's novel The Heart of Darkness. Conrad's story focuses on Captain Marlow who is parallel to Willard and the Colonel Kurtz possesses many of the same characteristics in both works. In both works, the Captain is to find the Colonel, but Coppola makes a very significant change in his film. This significant change is the transition of Captain Marlow assigned to find Colonel Kurtz in the Congo, to Captain Willard assigned to assassinate Colonel Kurtz in Cambodia. The fact that Willard has now become an assassin of Kurtz is very important in Coppola's over all point. It especially is important for the last ten minutes of the movie when Willard actually kills Kurtz. The final scenes of the film consist of Kurtz' reading of the poem "The Hollow Men" and the interplay of Willard killing Kurtz while the Cambodian Natives kill a water buffalo in a ritualistic setting. These changes and departures of the ending of Heart of Darkness are made so Coppola can make his point about the Vietnam War and society. The point being that the Vietnam War was completely meaningless and a lost cause among several others. However, as will be shown, these points come in conflict with eachother and are difficult to put together into one main theme..
As Captain Willard is being kept at Kurtz's compound in a cell, he has the chance of hearing Kurtz recite a very significant poem, "The Hollow Men" by T.S. Elliot. Coppola uses this poem to share his feelings of how meaningless the Vietnam War, and this film is very much a protest against the Vietnam War. Kurtz begins by reciting the beginning of the poem as "We are the hollow men. We are the stuffed men. Leaning together, Headpiece filled with straw." Of course the beginning of the poem explains how men are full in their heads, but it is of a meaningless substance as compared to straw. The "straw" in the man's head could be interpreted as the lies of the Vietnam war, and it is also lies that Kurtz hates the most. Coppola is making a huge statement here about the war. American soldiers and part of the country itself,(those being in favor of the Vietnam War), are the "hollow men." They went to Vietnam thinking they were going to fight against Communism and thought they could win the war, but the war was filled with lies in the way the government organized it, and because it was filled with such lies, it was a meaningless war.
The first twelve lines of the poem then concludes...