Apocalypse Now Redux (1979) 

 

 

 

Director:     Francis Ford Copola.

Starring:     Marlon Brando (Colonel Walter E. Kurtz), Martin Sheen (Captain Benjamin L. Willard), Robert Duvall (Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore), Frederic Forrest (Jay 'Chef' Hicks), Sam Bottoms (Lance B. Johnson), Laurence Fishburne (Tyrone 'Clean' Miller), Albert Hall (Chief Phillips), Harrison Ford (Colonel Lucas), Dennis Hopper (Photojournalist), G.D. Spradlin (General Corman), Jerry Ziesmer (Jerry, Civilian), Scott Glenn (Lieutenant Richard M. Colby), Bo Byers (MP Sergeant #1), James Keane (Kilgore's Gunner), Kerry Rossall (Mike from San Diego).

a longer version of Apocalypse Now

 

 

 

Spoiler Warning:

Saigon, South Vietnam.  Palm trees go up in the flames of the napalm.  A man, Captain Benjamin L. Willard, smokes a cigarette while laying in bed.  Helicopters fly back and forth across the screen. 

Willard gets up and peeps out the window between the blinds.  He is very disappointed to find that he's still only in Saigon.  "Every time, I think I'm gonna wake up back in the jungle.  When I was home after my first tour, it was worse.  I'd wake up, and there'd be nothing.  I hardly said a word to my wife until I said yes to a divorce.  When I was here, I wanted to be there.  When I was there, all I could think of was getting back into the jungle.  I'm here a week now. Waiting for a mission . . . getting softer.  Every minute I stay in this room, I get weaker.  And every minute Charlie squats in the bush, he gets stronger."

Willard is drunk.  He breaks the mirror and cuts his hand in the process.  He looks a mess.

Willard desperately wants a mission.  As narrator he says:  "I wanted a mission, and for my sins, they gave me one.  . . . It was a real choice mission.  And when it was over, I'd never want another."  Two soldiers come to his room and ask him if he is Captain Willard of the 505th Battalion, 173 Airborne?  Yes.  The men have orders to escort Willard to the airfield.  Willard figures he must have done something wrong and asks what is he charged with?  He's not charged with anything.  Rather he has orders to report to Com-Sec Intelligence at Nha Trang, a coastal city and capital of Khnh Ha Province, on the South Central Coast of Vietnam.  [The Nha Trang Air Base was used by the US Air Force as a special operations base.]

The captain wants to go back to sleep, so the two men have to grab him out of bed and place him under the cold water shower.    

"I was going to the worst place in the world and I didn't even know it yet.  Weeks away and hundreds of miles up a river that snaked through the war like a main circuit cable plugged straight into Kurtz."  That is, Col. Walter E. Kurtz, Operations officer, Fifth Special Forces.

The general tells Willard that Kurtz was a great officer, and and the man was brilliant.  And he was a good man.  But in the Special Forces his ideas and methods became unsound.  Kurtz has now crossed over into Cambodia with his Montagnard army.  His men worship him like a god.  Kurtz was about to the arrested for murder for ordering the execution of some Vietnamese intelligence agents.  Kurtz believed these men were double agents.  The general says that every man has a breaking point.  "And very obviously, he [Kurtz] has gone insane." 

Willard's mission is to proceed up the Nung River in a navy patrol boat, pick up Kurtz's path at Nu Mung Ba.  [Both the river and the village are fictional.]  When Willard finds the colonel, he is to infiltrate his team and "terminate the colonel's command".  "Terminate with extreme prejudice." 

Willard is flown by helicopter to Nu Mung Ba.  He wonders:  "How many people had I already killed?  There were those six that I knew about for sure --  close enough to blow their last breath in my face.  But this time is was an American and an officer."   He scoffs:  "Shit. Charging a man with murder in this place was like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500." 

Willard gets on a patrol boat with a crew that were mostly just kids.  A young black fellow named Clean was just seventeen years old and from the South Bronx.  Then there was a machinist, called Chef, from New Orleans.  He was wrapped too tight.  Then there was Lance, who was once a famous surfer in the 1950s from the beaches south of Los Angeles. Last but not least, was the chief of the boat,  a black man named Phillips.

While heading up river, Willard examines the dossier on Kurtz.  The man was a West Point graduate and had about a thousand decorations.  He had a perfect career and could have been a general or a chief of staff.   At the age of 38, he goes to jump school in Ft. Benning, Georgia and in 1966 he joins the Special Forces and returns to Vietnam.

The men on the boat go over to see where the smoke is coming from.  They find out that the many helicopters in the area were those of the Air-Cavalry, First of the Ninth, their escorts to the mouth of the Nung River.  But they were supposed to be waiting 30 kilometers up river. 

The patrol boat lands and Willard gets out.  The man in charge, the CO, is coming down now on a Huey.  He's Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore, maybe better named Wild Bill Kilgore.  The colonel tells Willard that he will have to wait until he finishes up here.  Willard follows the colonel around.  The colonel is about to give some water to a dying enemy prisoner, but as soon as he learns that Lance Johnson, the famous surfer, is here, he forgets all about the water.  He goes over and introduces himself to Lance.  He then introduces Lance to two good surfers: Mike from San Diego and Johnny from Malibu, California.  The colonel has plenty of time for Lance, but not for Captain Willard. 

Kilgore turns the LZ (landing zone) into a beach party, complete with T-bones and beer.  After dinner, Kilgore speaks to Willard about his mission.  One of the villages where they can get to the Nung River is Van Drin Dop or Lop.  Kilgore says that place is hairy  -- it's got lots of heavy ordnance.  But as soon as one of his surfers says there's a six foot peak there, the colonel wants to go there, a place where they lost McDonald, one of their men.  When one to the men protests that the place is Charlie's Point, Kilgore shouts back:  "Charlie don't surf."

Early the next morning, the Air-Cav just picks the patrol boat out of the water and heads for Van Drin Dop or Lop.  As Kilgore takes off in the helicopter he has his bugler play the tune for charge.  On the way, Kilgore just talks about surfing with Lance.  As they approach their destination, he tells Lance that he's gonna put on some Wagner music because it "scares the hell out of the slopes.  My boys love it."  The music goes on.  The soldiers start preparing for a landing. 

Down below is a shool for girls.  They run for some shelter from the oncoming helicopters.  Enemy soldiers take up their defensive positions.  The helicopters fire off their rockets and destroy many of the buildings in the village.  The machine guns mow down a lot of villagers.  The helicopters start landing and the soldiers jump out and onto the beach.  One of the rockets hits too close to the troops and a black soldier gets hit bad.  They patch him up, give him some morphine and fly him out of there to take him to a hospital.  A village woman throws a grenade onto one of the helicopters and it explodes.  It blows the hell out of the helicopter.  Kilgore's machine gunner kills the woman. 

Now Kilgore has his pilot fly over the waves.  He asks Lance to take a close look at the waves.  The waves break both ways, right and left.   The helicopter lands on a sand bar and Kilgore tells his two surfers to change and start surfing.   He gives the guys a choice:  surf or fight.  They decide to surf. 

Willard objects to the men surfing while the battle continues.  The colonel says if he says it's safe to surf here, it's safe to surf.  He says he's going to surf himself and pulls off his hat, bandana and shirt. 

Now the planes come over the palm trees on the village border and drop their napalm.  Kilgore asks if the men smell that?  Smell what?  "Napalm, son.  Nothing else in the world smells like that.  I love the smell of napalm in the morning."  Willard looks at the captain as if the man is crazy. 

Unfortunately for Kilgore, the napalm blows out the waves.  Willard says he's sorry to Kilgore, but an artist like Lance can't be expected to surf on blown out waves.  Kilgore apologizes to Lance, saying that this isn't his fault.  He asks Lance to wait just 20 minutes for the waves to return.  Willard grabs Lance by the arm and he starts running with Lance to the patrol boat.  Willard goes back to grab the Captain's surfboard and throws it onto the boat. 

Resting on the boat, Willard starts to wonder what the army had against Kurtz when Kilgore was insane and murderous. 

Kilgore returns via his helicopter.  He is broadcasting his taped plea to get his surf board back.  "You know how hard it is to find a board you like.  I will not hurt or harm you.  Just give me back the board, Lance.  It was a good board, and I like it." 

Chef goes out into the jungle to gather mangoes.  Willard goes out with him.  Willard hears some noise and goes out to check on it.  What he finds is a tiger.  The tiger rushes out at Willard who fires off his M-16 rifle.  Chef starts running away as fast as his legs can go.  The shooting scares the men on the boat and they prepare to fire back with the machinegun.  Chef and Willard jump and Chef starts repeating "never get out of the boat, never get out of the boat!"  Clean starts firing the machine gun bullets into the jungle without knowing anything about what happened.  Chef says he's bugging out; now he's seen it all and he doesn't need this;  all he wanted to do was be a chef.   He finally blurts out that it was a tiger.  Now Phillips relaxes and slows the boat.  The machinegun fire stops. 

Willard goes back to thinking about Kurtz.  He says the more he read, the more he admired Kurtz.  He was one tough hard ass. 

The patrol boat reaches an army base.  They are preparing for some entertainment when some Playboy Bunnies arrive by helicopter.  The whole base looks lit up for their arrival. 

The men are all in the stands.  And here comes the entertainment.  The first woman to be introduced is Miss August, Miss Sandra Beatty.  Then comes Miss May, Miss Terri Teray.  And then coming out is the playmate of the year, Miss Carrie Foster.  The women start dancing to the music and making the men go wild.  Men start jumping onto the stage, wanting the women to sign their Playboy centerfold spreads. And now lots of men start coming onto the stage.  The male host tells his helicopter the pilot to start its engines.  He shouts to the women:  "Let's go!"  The women get back on the chopper and it takes off.  Two guys are hanging onto the the runners of the helicopter.  The helicopter stops over the river to wait until the guys fall off.  The two fall into the river and the helicopter takes off. 

Willard comments:  "The was was being run by a bunch of four-star clowns who were gonna end up giving the whole circus away."

Continuing going up river, Lance water skies behind the patrol boat, while Clean dances to the music of the Rolling Stones, "I can't get no, satisfaction."  They pass by two patrol boast heading downstream.  Someone throws a smoke bomb onto the roof of Phillips' canvas covering.  That starts a fire.  The men put the fire out with fire extinguishers, but the canvas is completely ruined.  Later they have to use palm tree leaves to cover the top of the patrol boat. 

Willard reads about Kurtz ordering the assassination of three Vietnamese men and one woman. Two of the men were colonels in the South Vietnamese army.  His men were coming under frequent ambush, but with the death of the four people, the ambushes virtually stopped. Willard comments:  "Guess he must have hit the right four people."  Kurtz was winning skirmishes in his own way.  He was so effective that the Viet Cong were scared of him. 

The patrol boat reaches another army base.  The place looks to be a real mess.  Willard goes into the base, which is being flooded by really heavy rains.  He keeps asking soldiers where's the CO, and keeps getting non-answers.  Meanwhile, the boat crew start fighting each other.  Willard manages to make a deal with the men.  The Playboy helicopter is here and so are the women.  Willard exchanges two barrels of fuel for two hours with the bunnies for his men.  As soon as Willard informs the men, they stop fighting and go to get the two barrels of fuel. 

Chef goes inside the Playboy helicopter and starts up a conversation with Miss May.  Lance starts talking with the Playmate of the Year.   They both manage to open the shirts of the women.  (brief nudity)  Chef poses Miss May in the way she appeared on her centerfold spread.  The two of them start having sex.  Playmate of the Year accidentally knocks over a casket and it opens up showing the dead man inside.  She and Lance retreat to a place behind the casket.  She and Lance start kissing each other. (brief nudity)  The mood is spoiled when Clean appears at the window and watches Lance and the woman.  She sees Clean and asks who is he?  Cleans says:  "Well, I'm next, ma'am."

Heading back upstream, the boat comes upon a sampan.  They go to check it out.  Phillips says to Willard that it's just a routine check.  Willard tells him not to stop, but Phillips just ignores him.  Phillips tells Chef to check out the cargo on the sampan.  The boat is okay by their records and Chef thinks there's no need to search the boat.  So Phillips starts yelling at him and that puts Chef is a bad mood.  So he goes tearing through things saying there's nothing here.  He gets to a container and the woman on the boat rushes over.  Clean, on the machinegun, opens fire on the woman, killing her.  Then he starts killing the men on the sampan.  Lance joins in and they end up killing everybody on the boat.  This upsets Chef who investigates and finds out that the woman was just running for a puppy dog.

The woman is still alive and Phillips tells the men to bring the woman on board and they'll take her to the South Vietnamese ARVN.  Willard uses his pistol to shoot the woman dead.  He then says to Phillips:  "I told you not to stop.  Now let's go."

Do Lung Bridge is the last army outpost on the Nung River. And it's being shelled by the enemy.  A number of the soldiers try to get onto the boat to get out of the place.  They start swimming to the boat, but the boat just keeps on going. 

An officer, Lt. Carlsen, calls out for Captain Willard.  He has a message for Willard from Nha Trang  and some regular mail for everyone.  He tells Willard that he's glad he finally got the message delivered.  He says that now he can get out of here.  He starts leaving, but stops a moment to shout:  "You're in the asshole of the world, Captain."

Willard and Lance go on shore so Willard can try to get some information from the men.  The base is so run down and without discipline that the whole place seems surreal.  Willard asks some men if they still have a CO?  A guy tells him to go up to Beverly Hills.  It's a concrete bunker called Beverly Hills. 

Willard and Lance return to the boat with some ammunition.  Phillips asks if Willard found the CO and Willard replies:  "There's no fucking CO here."  They start going upstream again. 

Willard reads a letter from Nha Trang telling him that a man named Captain Richard Colby, who was sent out on a mission like the one Willard now has, went over to the side of Kurtz and now works with the outlaw. 

Heading upstream, the boat comes under fire.  Clean, on the machinegun, is shot dead.  And Lance now can't find the dog.  He tells Phillips that they have to go back for the dog.  The death of Clean upsets the whole crew. 

The men stop the boat at a destroyed store or gas station right on the river.  As they look around the place, they hear someone yelling to them in French.  The Chef, being from New Orleans, knows some French.  He yells out that they are Americans.  The fog starts to clear out and now the two groups can see each other.  The French leader comes down to speak with Willard.  He says the Americans are welcome here.  His name is Hubert DeMarais and behind him is his family's plantation that's 70 years old.  

The two groups bury Clean in a funeral ceremony.  During the ceremony, Willard sees a blonde French woman up on the balcony of the plantation house.  Later, the Americans have dinner with the French family.  The woman on the balcony comes a little late to the dinner. 

Willard asks why doesn't the family head back to their home in France?  DeMarais says that this plantation is their home.  He gets very excited and says they will never lose this piece of land.  Grandfather speaks up.  He says that President Roosevelt in 1945 didn't want the French to stay in French Indochina.  So the Americans implant the Vietminh.  Willard isn't sure what grandfather is telling him.  The son says it's true:  the Americans were the ones who invented the Vietcong.  Grandfather says:  "And now you take the French place and the Vietminh fight you.  And what can you do?  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing." 

The son tells Willard that what the Americans never understood is that, although the Vietnamese are communists they are Vietnamese communists.  They hate the Russians and the Chinese more than the Americans.  The French upset themselves in talking about the war and, the battle of Dien Bien Phu, specifically.  People start leaving the table until it's only Willard and the balcony woman together at the table.  She invites him up to her room.  She lost her husband in the war.  And Willard is now single.

The two share a pipe filled with marijuana.  Then she takes off her negligee (brief nudity).  

Back on the boat, Willard says he is starting to feel Kurtz's presence. At this time they are attacked by the natives, but they are only shooting sticks at men aboard the boat.  The Americans return fire with real bullets.  Willard realizes that no arrows are being used, he shouts to Phillips to get his men to stop firing, but Phillips just grabs an M-16 and starts firing at the natives.  So now the natives start throwing spears at the men on the boat.  One spear goes into the back of Phillips and goes clean through the body with the spear head sticking out in front.  Phillips falls onto the deck and Willard comes over to check up on the chief.  Phillips grabs Willard and tries to force him down and into the protruding spearhead.  Willard covers the man's mouth and nose with is hand and Phillips dies of suffocation along with a spear wound.

Now Willard tells Lance and Chef that he is going upstream to kill an American officer who has gone insane.  Chef explodes saying the mission itself is insane.  Willard has to kill one of their own guys.  So Willard starts walking the rest of the way.  The Chef stops him saying that they will go on the boat up to the targeted village. 

The boat finally reaches its destination.  The natives form a blockade of boats, but they let the patrol boat pass through their boats.  Someone shouts out in English that it's okay to come ahead and dock the boat.  The yeller goes down to the boat and introduces himself as an American.  Willard asks him who is he ad the stranger says that he's a photojournalist who has been covering the war since 1964.  He adds that the people here are thinking that the Americans have come to take their leader back to his home. And, moreover, everyone with Col. Kurtz are his children.  The photojournalist really likes Kurtz.  He says Kurtz is a poet warrior and has enlarged his mind.  In short, Kurtz is a great man.

Willard and Chef led by the journalist start to go to the palace.  Along the way, Willard recognizes turncoat Captain Colby.   He walks up to him and says:  "Colby."

The journalist says the Great Man went with some of his people into the jungle.  Willard says he will wait for them.  Chef, however, wants them to go back and wait for the Great Man on their patrol boat.  Willard agrees. 

Back on the boat Chef says that colonel's worse than insane.  The man is just plain evil pushing savagery and idolatry.  Chef even volunteers to kill the colonel for Willard.  Willard says no.  He wants Chef to watch the boat, while he and Lance go see what's going on.  They'll see if they can talk to Kurtz.  He gives the radio over to Chef saying that if he doesn't make it back by 22:00 hours, he is to call in an air strike on the village. 

The male villagers grab Lance and Willard and roll them in the mud so that their skin and clothing is covered with mud. They tie Willard's hands behind him and take him to see Kurtz.  Willard commentst hat it smelled like slow death in the cave-like palace.  "This was the end of the river, all right."

After Kurtz asks where was Willard born and bred [Toledo, Ohio], he asks if they ever told him why they wanted to terminate his command?   Willard answers:  "I was sent on a classified mission, sir."  Well, what did they tell Willard about him?  Willard says they said Kurtz had gone insane and that his methods were unsound.  Kurtz asks Willard is he think his methods are insane?  Willard says he doesn't see any method at all.  Kurtz says that Willard in nothing but " . . . an errand boy sent by grocery clerks to collect the bill."

There are dead enemy bodies all over the area.  Many are  hanging from trees.  Other bodies are just laying on the ground.  Willard is held in a bamboo cage.  The photojournalist gives him some water, while asking Willard why does a man like him want to kill a genius?  He adds that Kurtz really likes Willard. 

Willard waits in the bamboo cell in the rain.  Kurtz comes over and plops the severed head of Chef right in his lap.  Willard screams and is able to shake the head out of his lap. 

Willard is transferred to a metal cage with slots cut into it.  When Willard wakes up, he sees Kurtz and the kids watching him.  Kurtz opens the door, sits down with the kids all around him and reads out loud to Willard an article on Vietnam.  He finishes and says that Willard can come out now.  But Willard must not try to escape or he will be shot.  When Willard tries to come out, he drops unconscious at the opening of the doors.

Kurtz reads some poems out loud.  Willard and the photojournalist listen to the poems, until the journalists tires of it and leaves. 

Kurtz says to Willard:  "I've seen the horrors -- horrors that you've seen.  But you have no right to call me a murderer.  You have a right to kill me."  He also talks about suicide.  Then he says he worried about what his son might think of him.  So he wants Willard to tell his son about his father and about what Willard saw here at the base. 

A festival is being carried out.  They are going to kill a water buffalo as their source of meat. 

Willard gets up.  He says that everyone wanted him to kill Kurtz.  In fact, Kurtz wanted this most of all.  He was waiting for Willard to take the pain away.  It's just that he wanted to go out like a soldier, standing up.  Willard jumps into a muddy pool and gets mud all over his face and body.  He grabs a machete and heads to the palace.  Kurtz is recording his thoughts.  As Willard strikes Kurtz, the native men chop up the water buffalo.  [pretty gruesome]  As Kurtz goes down, so too does the water buffalo.  Kurtz says: "The horror.  The horror."

Now Willard is covered with bloody mud.  And then he slowly starts walking out of the palace.  He sits down for awhile at Kurtz's desk.  Then he comes out.  He has Kurtz's tape recorder with him.  Outside all the people squat down before the new god.  He drops the machete.  Then he walks through the large crowd of people.  The men lay down their rifles.  Willard grabs Lance out of the crowd and they go down to the patrol boat together.  Willard says:  "The horror.  The horror."
 

A really good film.  I don't know why I waited so long to watch it.  Lt. Willard walks around like in a daze or on drugs.  He sees things happening as though he was watching himself from outside himself.  The world of the war is surrealistic to him.  There is so much incompetence, so much killing of civilians, so much craziness among the American soldiers, etc., etc.   Vietnam is the world gone mad.  And there is the crazy assignment Willard is given.  He is to kill an outstanding American officer for going a bit rogue on the army establishment and doing his own thing even if it is very effective.  The army officers see the man as a threat because he works his own way and is actually successful.  Willard doesn't really want to kill officer Kurtz, but he knows those are his orders and he must do it. 

Willard has to go a long ways up a river on a military boat to get to Cambodia and Kurtz.  On his way, he sees the surrealistic world of the Americans in Vietnam.  The weirdest fellow was Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore who killed Vietnamese indiscriminately and who was more concerned about getting a chance to surf than see to it that the attack goes as it should go.  He is indifferent to all life and just thinks about enjoying himself. 

Then there are the beautiful Playboy bunnies who helicopter into an isolated area and the army can't control their own men and get them to behave.   So the show girls have to quickly be evacuated by helicopter.

There are army bases without commanders and the soldiers just react when the enemy is on the attack.  Again, it just all so surreal.  The soldiers seems to be confused and dazed and walking around without the guidance of good officers. 

Yes, it's a crazy world in Vietnam, but you will enjoy the ride. 

Willard finds Kurtz but struggles with the moral question is it right to kill an American officer just because he's a little crazy, like so many men in Vietnam anyway? 

 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 
 

 

 

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