Apocalypse Now is a classic 1979 film that takes place during the height of the war in Vietnam. It follows a U.S. Army Captain on a dangerous mission to seek out a mysterious Colonel deep in the jungle.
A Man on a Mission
Apocalypse Now follows Captain Willard (played by Martin Sheen) as he takes on a mission that leads him deep into Vietnam. He tells his story through the use of a voice over, which helps the audience to identify with him more and see things from his perspective. Frank P. Tomasulo says of the film that “It concentrates on America’s suffering and self-doubt, rather than on the destruction wrought on Vietnam and its people.”
On the other hand, he believes that the helicopter sequence makes the audience feel sympathetic towards the Vietnamese in the village below. He says that “the quick cut from the noisy helicopter attack to the quiet of a peaceful village filled with schoolchildren belies the heroism of the raid, especially given that the village is destroyed so that Lance can surf.”
However, it is later revealed that the village is in fact a heavily defended stronghold for the Vietcong. The schoolchildren seemed prepared for an attack, they were organised as if they had carried out drills beforehand.
Also, when one of the helicopters lands in the schoolyard, one of the women from the village blows it up by concealing a grenade in her hat and throwing it in. This partially justifies for the audience the soldiers taking revenge on the woman later. We have seen the attack from the point of view of the Americans only; we are following their perspective so we share the feelings they have towards “the enemy.”
The village that is about to be bombed is filmed from above, from the point of view of the soldiers in the helicopters. We as the audience are made to look down on the Vietnamese because of this use of an overhead shot. This is very effective because it means that the Vietnamese are literally beneath us; they are smaller than us. The Vietnamese are shown in long shots, so we aren’t meant to identify with any of them and we aren’t meant to feel any sympathy for them.
Forefront and Background
During the ongoing helicopter attack, Captain Willard and the company he is with land on the beach, which is where Kilgore wants some of the men to surf. While he is telling the men his war stories and delivering his famous “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” line, behind him a line of Vietnamese prisoners are being led across the beach.
The prisoners are chained together and being led single file by American soldiers. But no attention is drawn to these people; all of the focus is on the commanding figure of Kilgore. To much of the audience, these prisoners would go unnoticed. This shows that the Vietnamese tragedy isn’t seen as important compared to the events that take place concerning the American soldiers.
Apocalypse Now does mostly show the American perspective of events as these are the main characters in the film and the audience identifies more with them. The Vietnamese losses and tragedies aren’t focused on as the film is mainly made by and for Americans.