Apocalypse Now Redux review

:. Director: Francis Ford Coppola
:. Starring: Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando
:. Running Time: 3:23
:. Year: 2001
:. Country: USA


One of cinema's masterpieces has returned to the big screen. With Apocalypse Now Redux, Francis Ford Coppola finally offers his vision of the horror of war in its entirety, sublimating the original version with its missing links.

Martin Sheen plays Captain Willard, sent to execute renegade Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando) deep in the Cambodian jungle where he reigns with demigod status as the head of his own army. With this intention, Willard embarks for long travel in hostile waters, and at the same time starts a slow descent into the madness and horror of war.

Apocalypse Now Redux is without any doubt the most outstanding allegory on in cinema and probably the most ambitious war movie of all times. Though Coppola's work remains untouchable to date, it did inspire two other introspective films: Terrence Mallick's The Thin Red Line and Full Metal Jacket by Stanley Kubrick.

In the vision of the Redux version it is obvious that two of the added scenes are essential. At the beginning of the film Willard, who personifies the spectator in the film, tries to understand why the army wants to get rid of one of its own. Kurtz, a Medal of Honor officer who goes insane and is guilty of the worst atrocities, in fact reflects the crux of the conflict in Vietnam and that of war in general. He does not obstruct the American army with his cruel actions but because he personifies the horror of this conflict and American intervention. The man who wants to be both poet and philosopher seems to have given himself the mission of confronting the excesses and the futility of this American crusade by pushing his actions to the extreme. The true danger he represents is to show the public the true face of war. One can then perceive Coppola through Kurtz, since it is exactly what the director did while releasing the film in the Seventies when the wounds of this war had not yet healed.

The descent down the river symbolizes the descent of Kurtz into madness. The malaria that debilitates him also represents this horror. Thus, logically, the closer Willard gets to Kurtz, the more this madness and horror become obvious. Each new stage on the river is more intense than the preceding one. Accordingly, the additions of Apocalypse Now Redux prove crucial.

The first stop is between the base where the Playboy Bunnies show takes place and the bridge, which is the last American enclave on the river. In this camp, both desolate and inundated by pouring rain, Willard swaps some gasoline barrels for some good time with the Bunnies for his crew. The passage above all offers a comparison between the fate of the playmates and the soldiers, all subjected to acts they find repugnant but to which they are prisoners. This allusion to a woman as a carnal object compared to a man as cannon fodder is surprising but welcome. The image of the soldier and the playmate side by side in the darkness of the morgue is visually moving and bears witness to the distress of the situation.

The second stage is without any doubt the most significant contribution to the film. Willard and the crew disembark in a village, a vestige of the French colonial past. There they find some French families who, shadows of themselves, try to survive in a proud and quite French tradition that is also vain. These "ghosts" of the Indochina war cling to their land and illusions. When Willard asks them why they do not return to France, they become angry, explaining that their life is here even though they know that they are prisoners of their faded dreams of colonialism. The moment also serves as a pretext for Coppola to condemn their colonial rhetoric while also showing the futility of American intervention; as the head of the colony explains: "We fight for our ground but you Americans fight for nothing." These scenes prepare at the last stage in the Kurtz's camp. These French "ghosts" are the last vestiges of a civilization in which they try to preserve customs & habits whereas the "ghosts " which haunt the Kurtz's camp have broken all links with civilization and returned to the brutality of the stone age. The passage also brings a rare moment of sensuality between Willard and a French widow.

The last major addition is debatable. It shows Kurtz reading a political article of the Times with Willard during the daytime. To show Kurtz in semi-darkness made it possible to accentuate his status as a demigod or half-monster hiding at the bottom of hell (use of a dark and fire red photography). By showing him in daylight, he is demystified only to become a simple human being reading the newspaper. Though the reason of this scene is easily understood, it has the effect of reducing the choking atmosphere of the end.

On the other hand, other minor additions bring a little fresh air and humor in the film, as the passage where Willard steals the Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore's (Robert Duvall) surfboard or the rare moments of conviviality on the boat.

Twenty years later, Apocalypse Now Redux remains a cinematic pillar and has surpassed the original version. Its release at the beginning of the 21st century also has an unexpected effect, that of drawing up the cruel report of cinematic impoverishment over the last twenty years.

  Fred Thom

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