An Examination of Apocalypse Now

Based on Joseph Conrad’s novella ‘Heart of Darkness’; Apocalypse Now is a 1979 American epic war drama which is considered one of the best films ever made, and after having watched it three times, I would now agree.

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For our new assignment our team has been assigned the movie; ‘Apocalypse Now’. A schematic and artefact must be presented, with adequate research displayed alongside. I feel these two assignments are very unique yet also challenging; nevertheless I am really excited to get stuck in. The movie itself lasts over 3 hours so there is a lot to take in. After watching it once I realised I would need to watch it again whilst simultaneously researching and taking notes on the plot, so that I didn’t miss vital details.


It is set during the Vietnam War and focuses on Captain Willard’s journey up the River Nung in a navy PBR alongside four ‘psychedelic’ characters. The image below shows the Mekong River, the river which the Nung from the movie, is based off. As a group we thought it would be nice to have a faded image of the Mekong River included in the background of our schematic.

screen-shot-2017-02-17-at-10-17-33                                                      Image Courtesy – Googlemaps


To sum it up, the main goal is for Willard (played by Martin Sheen) to assassinate one of his own, Colonel Walter E. Kurtz. Kurtz (played by Marlon Brando) has essentially gone insane, thinking of himself as a demigod whilst commanding his own Degar troops from inside the neutral Cambodia.

Kurtz is Willard’s main focus on his journey, he does not know what to expect, nor does he know what he will do when confronted with him. His brutality is evident throughout the movie. Willard was informed along his journey that another soldier Lieutenant Colsby had previously taken the same mission on, but did not return. We are also shown decapitated heads upon reaching Kurtz dwelling place (image below). All these warnings built the suspense for Willard’s meeting with him.


Overall the movie is very dark and most if not all of the characters have been effected mentally by the on-going Vietnamese war. As it is more of a psychological movie, creating a thought-provoking artefact that arouses strong emotion is a must and something our team will take into consideration whilst thinking of ideas for our artefact assignment.


Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore is an American officer who got a lot of pleasure from fighting in the Vietnam War. He is a character famous for loving the smell of napalm in the morning. Kilgore seems to have lost touch with reality in ways, this is portrayed by making his soldiers surf in the middle of air-strikes. To best describe his incessant ways,  his most famous quotes are written below.

Willard: Are you crazy, Goddammit? Don’t you think its a little risky for some R&R?
Kilgore: If I say its safe to surf this beach, Captain, then its safe to surf this beach! I mean, I’m not afraid to surf this place, I’ll surf this whole fucking place!

Kilgore: Smell that? You smell that?
Lance: What?
Kilgore: Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that.

Kilgore: I love the smell of napalm in the morning. You know, one time we had a hill bombed, for 12 hours. When it was all over, I walked up. We didn’t find one of ’em, not one stinkin’ dink body. The smell, you know that gasoline smell, the whole hill. Smelled like

– taken from ‘Apocalypse now’

Apocalypse Now is loosely based of Joseph Conrad’s book, Heart of Darkness (1899). It is narrated by Marlow who tells his story to friends who are aboard a boat anchored on the River Thames in London, England. The story focuses on a voyage up the Congo River, into the Congo Free State in Africa. According to Wikipedia, “Conrad’s work is the idea that there is little difference between so-called civilised people and those described as savages; Heart of Darkness raises questions about imperialism and racism”.

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Apart from the intense storyline and characters, the film is noted for having encountered numerous problems when in production. Marlon Brandon turned up for filming over weight, and also hadn’t read Conrad’s book before turning up. Due to alcoholism, Martin Sheen had taken a mental breakdown whilst shooting onset during the first scene of the movie. Despite this, director Francis Ford Coppola decided to keep shooting. Sheen also took a near-fatal heart attack whilst on set. There were many more set backs such as destruction of sets due to severe weather, shooting taking longer than expected, loss of money etc…  The documentary ‘Hearts of darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse’ documents behind the scene footage of filming and goes into great depths on the movie in general.


Conrad, J. (1996). Heart of darkness. 1st ed. Charlottesville, Va.: University of Virginia Library.

Apocalypse Now. (1979). [film] Hollywood: Francis Ford Coppola.

Heart of Darkness – EdTechTeacher. (2017). [online] Teaching English With Technology. Available at: [Accessed 20 Feb. 2017].

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