Things to Watch For in
Apocalypse Now

Here are some things to note as you read the novel Heart of Darkness and then watch the film Apocalypse Now. (I am referring to Apocalypse Now Redux, Coppola's preferred version of the film).

  • How does Captain Willard differ from Charlie Marlow?

  • What effect does the loss of the framing device of the novel have on the film?

  • Does Coppola's changing of the setting from the Congo River in Africa to the Nung River (a fictional stand-in for the Mekong River) in Vietnam and Cambodia work for you?

  • Note the rock'n'roll soundtrack that begins and ends with The Doors' "The End."

  • Note how Coppola uses the sound of the fan in Captain Willard's room. Coppola had Sheen get drunk and improvise the scene were he goes bezerk in his hotel room.

  • Note the famous scene of the assault on the village, opening with the helicopter loudspeakers blasting Wagner at the terrified students and teachers, and continuing with Lt. Kilgore (Robert Duvall) and his famous line, "I love the smell of napalm in the morning."

  • Note the use of government doublespeak in Willard's orders to "terminate with extreme prejudice" and how they tell Willard that his "mission does not exist, nor will it ever exist."

  • Note how Coppola establishes the paranoia of fighting a guerilla war? and how he establishes the fearsome power of nature/the jungle?

  • Who in the film takes on the role of the Harlequin from the novel?

  • Note what the villagers are doing when Willard comes to kill Kurtz?

  • What do you think the famous line, "The horror, the horror" means in the book? in the film? Does it have the same meaning in both?

  • Background: The film that was budgeted at $12-13 million cost almost $31 million and almost bankrupt director Francis Ford Coppola––with much of the film shot on location in the Philippines. The highly-publicized delays and catastrophes in the grueling shoot (scheduled for about 17 weeks but ending up lasting about 34 weeks), along with extra-marital affairs, a grandiose and suicidal director, drug use and other forms of madness, were mostly due to a rain-drenching typhoon (named Olga) and a star-debilitating, near-fatal heart attack for star Martin Sheen.

  • The Making of the Film: Hearts of Darkness: A Film-maker's Apocalypse (1991), a documentary about the film's chaotic making, by by Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper (and shot in part by Coppola's wife Eleanor) includes interviews with most of the cast and crew and shows how Coppola felt he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Interestingly, he seems almost Kurtz-like.

  • Trivia: Harvey Keitel was initially given the role of Captain Willard, but Coppola replaced him with Martin Sheen after already beginning filming with Keitel. Orson Welles was Coppola's first choice for the role of Kurtz.