Apocalypse Now Discussion

apocalypse_now

Assignment

In Michael Richardson’s book,  Otherness in Hollywood Cinema, he states, “No film in Hollywood history, I think, has directly confronted themes of otherness in a more complex or a more uncomfortable way than  Apocalypse Now. (pg. 139).   What “themes of otherness’ struck you in the film, and what does this film tell you about who the “other’ is? Contribute to discussion in the comments section of this post, to be found below.

Read Chapter 8 of his book to help you analyze the question. (Click above link; available electronically through UAF library)

You may also want to look at the article by  Margot Norris,  ‘Modernism and Vietnam: Francis Ford Coppala’s Apocalypse Now.’

71 Responses to “Apocalypse Now Discussion”

  1. jmchavez says:

    The evolution of depth and meaning that I’ve seen transform over the years from various examinations of Apocalypse Now is something that will always amuse and at the same time intrigue me. It’s interesting to take a step back and view the metamorphosis from simply a cool war film when I was younger, then moving to the status of being the iconic Vietnam war film and finding the subtleties that Coppola hid throughout, and now furthering its meaning at a much more underlying level. What’s odd to me is that I’d never really taken into question the sense of disillusionment that hangs through the aura of the film, even with a somewhat linear and straight forward storyline.

    After reading Richardson’s observations, and watching it another time with his perspectives in mind, the nebulous aura of disillusionment and mystery that lingers throughout the film seems a little more straightforward. It isn’t any cinematic gimmicks or tricks as much as it turns to be a genuine and honest questioning of what defines the borderline of fragility of our society in which we inhabit. This sense of otherness that is pervasively brought forth implicitly and explicitly within the film brings with it the innate feeling of uncomfortability(ie; Willard punching the mirror in order to reject the decision process of either disassociation or acceptance of the “otherness” that he felt when forced into introspection). The film transcends the traditional historically-bound cinematic retelling of a war into something much more visceral, all the while remaining so loosely connected to facts that it seems that it could’ve just as well have been reformatted to take place on the planet Mars. The story need not be bound to facts, history, and geographic specificities though as the entire mentality of the otherness that was experienced by America from the war, and the thesis of the film itself, at the time was synonymous with this inchoate feeling of “confusions, misdirections, and failures” (Richardson) enforced through the trauma of war. Thinking from the perspective of the mystifying otherness, and seeing the lust for it, one of my favorite quotes of all time, “Sell the house. Sell the Car. Sell the kids…” now holds a hell of a lot more meaning.

  2. Shelby Stone says:

    The movie Apocalypse Now shows “themes of otherness” throughout it for several reasons. To begin with, a very broad idea that represents otherness is the nature of the Vietnam war. This movie follows the story of this war that didn’t appear to happen because of any real reason or end goal. Since the entire point of the war was to merely rack up a body count against another nation, it in itself contained a great deal of otherness from other wars in our world. That is one of the biggest themes of otherness I witnessed throughout the movie.

    I would consider the “other” in the film to be possibly two groups of people. One is simply the enemy the United States are initially fighting, the Vietnamese. The other and possibly more prominent throughout the film is the people who support the war, which goes against the story that follows the group of soldiers who abandoned this idea and followed their own path against the war.

  3. Ryan C says:

    I believe that this means that the movies focus wasn’t around Vietnam or the war but more about why they were there. There was never a focus on the Vietnam people or the purpose. It was focused around the American dream and the end goal. It shows how we are inserting our dominance and our beliefs onto a different country. We have seen this to many times where we believe our way is superior to others and there way is wrong. If they don’t conform to our ways, then we force them to conform.

    Otherness could also mean the story of the men themselves. They show the impact the war has on them and what it will do. My father, being a Vietnam vet, has told us many stories about what they went through. About the struggles of being over there and how it was. The stories he tells is just horrific and sad. Many of his friend suffer from complications due to the war. The things that they go through in the movie to fight a war could also be the otherness.

    When you think of the movie you believe that its going to be centered around the war. The movie did give you a brief insight of the war but it was more about the effects of it. It touches on a few things like the purpose of the war and what the effects have on it. There was really never a defining factor on Vietnam, its people, and there side.

  4. Heather D. says:

    The Vietnam War, as many sources will tell you, was one of the worst and bloodiest conflicts in American history. An entire generation of young adults was either killed or left traumatized and disillusioned. The average age of the drafted men in WWII was between 22 and 27 (https://www.nationalww2museum.org/students-teachers/student-resources/research-starters/draft-and-wwii) , while the average age drafted for the Vietnam War was between 18 to 21. ( https://www.sss.gov/About/History-And-Records/How-The-Draft-Has-Changed-Since-Vietnam )
    Knowing this history, it’s easy to see the themes of “otherness” and trauma in Apocalypse Now. The opening scene of the movie summarizes this idea of coming home and re-adjusting to civilian life with the burden of PTS. Willard states in his monologue in the iconic opening: “When I was home after my first tour, it was worse. I’d wake up and there’d be nothing…When I was here, I wanted to be there. When I was there…all I could think of was getting back into the jungle.”
    People who struggle with trauma may feel that they are different, or “other”, from “normal” people, and this theme plays into Apocalypse Now.

  5. justin l bollaert says:

    The otherness that sticks out to me is the dreamlike or hallucination like visuals that the film has. Coppola uses a lot of fog and smoke throughout the film to create a sense of another plane. Also the use of the imposed images of characters over scenes adds another layer to the dreamlike quality. Coppola says in the documentary “hearts of darkness” that the fog used during the introduction of the french was supposed to be like something out of a dream.

    Another point on the fog. I thought that it represented the “fog of war”. The uncertainty of battle.

    The “other” of the film is Kurtz and eventually Willard. Kurtz has surpassed his moral authority, the army, and he has become his own moral authority. Kurtz has become a god, and he is no longer bound to moral problems; because everything “god” does is just. He has become this other figure of morality.

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  7. Richard Atkin says:

    Having seen this Apocalypse Now a couple times I would say that my interpretation of this films otherness is the theme that war is hell. However that message itself isn’t new at all. Most war movies emphasize that message. However in other movies that usually show us the horrors of war through use of portraying horrible acts of violence or showing the war from both sides to show their humanity. A good example would be the film We Were Soldiers which does a good job of portraying both sides as humans fighting for what they believe in. This movies otherness is how differently it portrays the horrors of war. While we do see examples of horrible violence, mainly the two times the soldiers attack civilians both at the village and on the boat, the main portrayal of the horrors of war is the portrayal of war itself as the villain.

    The movie hints at this from the get go with the introduction of Willard as he comments that all he wants is to get back to the jungle because he knows no other life, even though he had a wife and family at home. We are made to believe that his mission to kill Kurtz is justified because he went crazy and is endangering the lives of soldiers but we quickly learn that he isn’t the real villain, one could argue he is at best a victim of the strain of war and at worst a side effect or symptom of war. A once exemplary soldier reduced to a raving madman with his own personal cult. And we see Willard seemingly almost follow the same path right up till the final moments of the movie where he seems to snap out of his trance and returns to complete his mission.

    The otherness is instead of having a clear badguy to point a finger at, we have a state of mind that drives people to their breaking point and beyond, which is even more frightening. You can’t fill fear with bullet holes after all.

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  9. Shelina Turner says:

    The theme of otherness in this film is something I found very forthcoming in this film. Soldiers often see horrible things and have to create this wall, this fortress to keep others out. This wall makes it possible for them to keep on serving their country, it makes it so they can make the decisions that most of us cannot dream of making. Creating this otherness within themselves is their way of keeping their humanity bottled up but also makes it difficult to adapt back into society.

    The otherness in this film would be the Vietnamese people. For a film being shot about the Vietnamese war there is little to no involvement from them in the film. They are definitely viewed as the others.

    • Nick Baker says:

      Shelina,

      I think your statement that the Vietnamese are considered the “otherness” of the film is completely correct! Using them in order to portray the American’s ability to walk through the country and demolish towns all in the name of ‘freedom’ in addition to the Vietnamese’s use of savagery to keep their humanity- the scene where the woman blows up the helicopter- really shows both sides of the argument.

  10. Shawn Weixelman says:

    Shawn Weixelman
    Apocalypse Now – Movies and Films Spring 2016

    This if the fourth or fifth time I’ve watched Apocalypse Now, and I’m starting to pick up not only on the small details, but also on the use of contrast. We start in the city, and gradually the river takes us further and further from society, technology, and civility, eventually ending in anarchy and madness. The U.S. military begins as a juggernautical force, obliterating all in it’s path and shrugging off enemy retaliation to the extent that it doesn’t interfere with their recreation (surfing). By the end however, represented through Willard’s perspective, the mission is knowingly hypocritical, and emblematic of the war as a whole.

    I actually wonder if the story couldn’t use more contrast. We hear about Willard’s return home and subsequent divorce and return to the war through his narration, but I think a series of images, not a true flashback or prologue, but just a glimpse here and there of the beautiful wife and perfect home would serve to “show” rather than “tell” how unfulfilling Willard now finds the American ideal. Similarly we see very little of Saigon and Nha Trang. The transition away from the city could start with imagery Americans associate with normality, and then move toward the unfamiliar, yet still somewhat modern Vietnamese cities, before taking us away into the jungle. Of course, both of these options may have been considered, and the budget deemed better spent elsewhere.

    We certainly see a contrast in our characters from their introduction to their respective ends (with the exception of Kurtz whose character arc is past tense). Chef never recovers from the fear of the Tiger attack. Chief never recovers from Clean’s death, and Lance’s transformation is personified through his use of camouflage makeup. Each character may, as they travel further up the river into the alien wilderness, be coming to terms with their place in the world. Willard is not among peers, and he is elevated by more than rank. All the other soldiers are as innocent and naive in comparison to Willard as he is compared to Kurtz.
    The death of Kurtz is itself contrasted with the death of the sacrificial cow. Kurtz is killed largely just off screen or hidden in shadow, whereas the cow’s death is not only viscerally realistic (I’m assuming that was a real cow really being killed) and happens not only in bright light, but in the presence of hundreds of observers, whereas Kurtz’s death is unobserved, except perhaps by a single villager. What can we infer? Though the manner of his death will not be reported to the common soldiery nor the folks back home, it serves to define what those in power deem corrupt, and the subsequent punishment is meant to restore justification for the war. Or, to look at it another way, the hypocrisy that Kurtz had put a voice to had to be silenced for the sake of legitimising American imperialism, which stems from the idea of American exceptionalism. After all, if we are obviously no better than those we depose, how can we hold the moral high ground necessary to maintain the denial that we are somehow better, and need to show the rest of the world how to be as great as we are?

  11. megotti says:

    Although I have watched this film in the past, I was only a teenager at the time and I did not spend the time trying to understand the overall meaning hidden in “Apocalypse Now.” I honestly did not enjoy the film at the time, because I thought it was too slow and uneventful for my taste. However, now I realize this film has little to do with action and more to do with exploring the human psyche, especially as a result of the Vietnam War.

    While watching this film, I realized that if someone who was unfamiliar with the Vietnam War watched this, they would not be able to understand the purpose or meaning behind the war. The theme of “otherness” can be seen in the Vietnamese and Cambodian people who play absolutely no roll in the film (Richardson, 137), other then as corpses and savages. The film does not explore the effects of the war on them, but instead focuses on the American soldiers. We can see this theme especially, when Willis shoots the woman in the boat because he does not want to waste any time getting to his destination. There is no common ground between the Vietnamese/Cambodians and the American soldiers. The American soldiers do not try to empathize with their enemies.

    The fact that this film can be viewed and the meaning of the war can be questioned is a largely present theme seen throughout the film. Another example of “otherness” in the film could be America. The soldiers could be viewed as others to both the audience and the Vietnamese and Cambodians, and even themselves. America went into a war with little understanding on what exactly it was we wanted to accomplish, and because of this we lost the war. Many lives were lost due to the fact that we entered into a war without a set goal. The fact that we can’t find any meaning to the events taking place in the film, shows the lack of preparedness America had when entering this war. America had no set objectives and this confusion had devastating consequences for the soldiers both physically and psychologically.

    The ending of the film has two different endings which I found to be very curious. The film can either end with an air strike or the boat drifting away with Willard. From my understanding, I think the airstrike happened in either case, because we are presented with The Doors song: “The End” in both the beginning and end of the film. We even see the flames and helicopters over Willard’s face in the beginning as the song plays, and I think this is a prelude to the airstrikes that take place at the end of the film. So either way, it doesn’t matter what ending we see because the ending will always be the same. I am curious how others feel about the two different endings of the film?

    Works Cited:

    Richardson, Michael. Otherness in Hollywood Cinema. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group Inc, 2010. Print.

  12. jjackovich says:

    From what I have gathered from the movie Apocalypse Now otherness was experienced many times throughout the film. My interpretation of otherness is something that comes across very different. When in fact the whole movie was very different, it was made a war movie placed in the jungles of Vietnam. However, the film very rarely showed them fighting against any Vietnamese soldiers. I think a lot of the film was based on “others” being themselves. Willard uses connections throughout the movie comparing himself to the “others”. He sees himself as neither on the Americans side or the Vietnamese side. He constantly questions the tasks he is called on to commit. He states in the movie that his mission, “does not exist, nor will ever exist”. The “other” was Colonel Kurtz in the beginning but as Willard and him spent many nights out in the jungle battling their own fears; Willard soon saw himself as being more and more similar to Kurtz. Turning him into an “other” as well; lost in their own world, battling PTSD and their constant fear of what lurks in the jungle. They no longer belong in the real world back in their old homes, their home is now the jungle because they are that thing that doesn’t belong and is different. The exact feeling of what “otherness” is.

    • megotti says:

      I like your analysis of Kurtz and Willard, and I agree that the two end up being very similar towards the end of the film. I think Willard first sees himself as an American soldier, but he slowly sees himself growing farther apart from what he thought he was. We can see the soldiers on the boat changing as well, as they end up growing farther apart, instead of closer together. In the end of the film, Willard no longer identifies as an American soldier but instead identifies with Kurtz. I agree that Kurtz can be seen as an other, and by the end of the film, Willard becomes Kurtz and he himself is the “other” that he perceived. I think the confusion and the undefined objectives of the Vietnam War itself is what drives Willard to abandon his identity as an American soldier and instead take on another identity.

  13. Breanna McCain says:

    The themes of otherness I noticed was the soldiers seemed to be fighting themselves instead of the enemy. There was so much violence that it eventually took a toll on their sanity. There is a part in the movie where Willard’s men kill a family. Willard then kills the last person because he doesn’t think he will be able to save her. I feel that he almost used it as a punishment for the men stopping when they ignored him. He had to show the men that these people were the enemy and they weren’t worth the time saving. Willard believed that was how it was supposed to be. To shoot them and then “help” them. Even Kurtz is a violent and murderous person as it is a means to living and winning the war against the Vietnamese. Willard and Kurtz are very much alike in the fact that they kill anyone who gets in their path. I believe that this other was the dominating otherness in this movie as it deals with the specific mentality of the group and how they progress into madness throughout the movie.
    Another thing that is the other is the peacefulness on the river. It is very different than what they deal with on land. When they go on shore in search of mangoes they are attacked by a tiger. They are almost afraid to doc where they are looking for Col. Kurtz. They are much more comfortable on the boat even though they are still in Vietnam. The boat is almost like they are in a different, safe place. Everything on the river is out in the open and clear. The jungle however is thick and scary. It is the unknown in the movie. “Never get out of the boat.” Absolutely goddamn right! Unless you were goin’ all the way…”(Apocalypse Now) Willard is talking about how if they get off the boat they are back in Vietnam, and then they would be in a dangerous place. They are much safer staying on the boat.
    There is also no presence of the Vietnamese and their views. They almost seem to be looked at as innocent. They are virtually invisible throughout the movie. “It is not so much that recognition is given to a Vietnamese perspective as the fact that the Vietnamese are virtually invisible, even as adversaries, that gives pause for reflection.”(Richardson, 137) I believe that Coppola made it this way to show that the main issue in the movie was the soldiers were fighting themselves. It was a struggle between continuing to be a soldier and being one who supports humanity. “From the film, one might be persuaded that the real “enemy” the Americans were fighting was themselves.”(Richardson, 138)

    • Breanna McCain says:

      I forgot to cite the book.

      Richardson, Michael. Otherness in Hollywood Cinema. New York: Continuum, 2010. Web.

    • megotti says:

      I found your discussion to be very interesting. I am not sure if the Vietnamese were depicted as “innocent” in the film necessarily. The film depicts the soldiers treating them as savages and they are even depicted as such. I think this is more due to the fact that this was how the soldiers viewed them, even though in reality they were not savages. American soldiers march across their land fighting a war that they don’t completely understand themselves, and in the process kill innocent Vietnamese and Cambodians.

      I also appreciate your commentary on Willard and Kurtz being very similar. I agree, the two are almost the same, however, Kurtz has chosen to leave the war while Willard still fights. Although Kurtz actions appear insane, the actions taken by Willard in the war can also be considered insane, and this is what makes the two so similar.

    • Mayamagnet says:

      Great analysis about the boat. This is such a critical component to the film! They are literally floating through the war, going upstream. Location of a film scene is a key for developing a cinematic poetry. We will be exploring this idea of Location and Place throughout the semester.

  14. Msoden says:

    In his book Otherness in Hollywood Cinema Michael Richardson discusses how Francis Ford Coppala confronted “themes of otherness” (Richardson, 139) in his movie Apocalypse Now. Richardson describes this “otherness” as a differentiation between America and Vietnam, both as countries and as cultures. The movie is focused entirely on the American perspective of the conflict. The Vietnamese people are only bit players in the drama, both the movie and the actual war. Richardson posits that the movie is not about the war, but rather about how Americans and Europeans have bought in to the American dream and the self-absorption that comes along with that dream. This leads to an indifference to the impact that our nations impacts on other countries and cultures. This indifference was echoed in the characters of the film.

    While I agree with Richardson’s premise I think that the theme of “otherness” goes much further that differences in country or culture. This film presents the idea that we are all, as individuals, alone in this world and that everyone around us, not matter our relationship, is an “other” and we are ultimately left to live with out choices. This theme is most prominently exhibited in the film’s main character, Willard. Throughout the movie he is separated from the other characters, both in a physical sense and emotionally as well. We first see Willard alone in a hotel room, trying to drown his personal demons in alcohol. When he is brought to the military base to receive his orders he is always separated from others to some degree. When they sit down to dine, he is on the opposite side of the table from all the others present. When he is on the boat heading up river, he is almost always separated physically from the other members of the crew by several feet. This separation becomes more pronounced the further up river they go and the more he begins to withdraw into his own mind and try to understand Kurtz and his thinking. This isolationism reaches it’s zenith in Kurtz’s compound when Willard is forced to make his decision about whether to kill Kurtz or not. In the moment that he makes his decision Willard is completely separated from the concerns of other people and is only considering what his actions will mean for his own sanity ability to continue living.

    While the film’s theme overall is the otherness that existed between the American people and the Vietnamese, the otherness of each of us as individuals also plays an important role in the film.

    Richardson, Michael. Otherness in Hollywood Cinema. New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc. 2010

  15. Mitchel says:

    Mitchel Halverson
    Film 334: Apocalypse Now
    2/7/16
    I did not know what “otherness” was, so I trusted the internet. According to https://othersociologist.com/otherness-resources/, otherness is any social group or outlook that differs from the standard. Otherness can also be the opposite of the author or speaker.

    Taking otherness to the film Apocalypse Now, the characters are displaying various behaviors that are different from my normal routine. The primary setting is one in the latter half of the Vietnam War. Williams is sent on a mission to execute a Col. Kurtz. The film shows his encounters with various groups along the river.
    The general feel is that we, the viewers are the normal. The Other, is the people directly affected by the war. The Lt. Col. Kilgore deals with the stress of war by focusing intensely on victory and surfing. The professional surfer takes drugs during combat. The second army camp that the boat reaches shows how the soldiers have been left, unattended to. In this situation, they just run amok sometimes naked without any direction or order.

    The film seemed to focus more on the filming style near the end, than the actual events. It got visually darker the closer Willard got to Kurtz. This made it difficult for me to see what was happening or the expressions on their faces.

    According to the recommended reading https://www.theguardian.com/film/2001/nov/02/artsfeatures.londonfilmfestival2001, the film is based on the book heart of darkness more than the actual war. Is seems that the director sacrificed the legitimacy of the story in order to portrait the feelings of the Americans who had to deal with the combat.

  16. Chelsea Roehl says:

    One of the themes of “otherness” that struck me in the film was the continual degradation of civilization the further up the river Willard and the crew went. When they were towards the beginning, there were many military men who were jolly and having a good time with lots of celebration. However, the further up the river the group went, the more their and other military personnel’s’ mental states degraded away. However far up the group went though, they were able to retain their mental well being whenever they were on the boat. Like Richardson Michael said in his book, “The river is a neutral zone, that is not Vietnam: Vietnam only exists when they leave the boat, and it is a dangerous and threatening place.” An example of this is when Chef and Willard go to get some mangoes and they get attacked by a tiger, a beast from the otherness. So while in the neutral zone the men are “safe” from the otherness, until they finally go up past the point where the otherness swallows them and the river “neutral zone” whole.

    The point was when Willard goes past the last army outpost with no C.O. and the men are basically crazed, jumping into the water after the boat begging for them to take them home, is the point where the otherness consumes the characters. The otherness no longer respects the neutral zone of the river as Chief is killed by a spear thrown by the natives. Chief himself is even surprised and angered by this as he even said with seething disappointment and anger, “A spear?” The otherness at this point is no longer separated from the main characters, and the characters now must immerse themselves into the otherness or be killed. Another example of this is the very end, where Lance who is basically insane and dressed in garb that mimic’s the natives of the otherness, lives while Chef, who retained his military garb was beheaded and killed.

    The film, as I interpret it, portrays the otherness as an invitation to either adapt or be killed. But in the process of adapting to the otherness, one loses themselves, shedding the skins and civil expectations put on by society and adapting to the other that they learn to embrace. If they do not adapt to the otherness however, they are consumed by insanity and eventually most likely killed. The other is not forgiving, and the further the characters venture into it, the more unforgiving it becomes.

    • megotti says:

      I like your analysis of the river, and how the soldiers “sanity” continued to deteriorate as they made their way further up the river. I thought it was not very clear why Chef was killed and Lance was spared but your analysis was very helpful. I had thought the fact that Chef was trying to contact the others outside when he did not hear back from Willard was why he was beheaded. I was not sure at the time whether he was going to call in the airstrike, and the natives knew he was a danger, and because of that he was killed.

      I found Lance to be a really interesting character and I think his psyche that is presented in the film is supposed to be impressionable like a child’s. We see him pick up the puppy, and he becomes very attached to it. He also breaks an arrow and fixes it to his helmet, which also made him appear more “child-like” then the others. I think his attitude made him impressionable to accepting and acting like the natives, which ended up saving his life. I am not sure if I would call it insanity or him just having a very impressionable psyche compared to the other soldiers. I think because he sees the world so differently due to his child-likeness makes him more empathetic towards the Vietnamese, which we see is primarily lacking in the majority of the American soldiers.

  17. Ekaterina says:

    Since it can be said that the idea of “otherness” is the idea of existence of “other world” about which we are not thinking, I believe that this idea should not consider only the aspect of Vietnam war, but the aspect of negligence in its broad meaning. For instance, when reading Michael Richardson’s article, the first time he mentions this “other” is in his example with that “other,” hiding in the woods: some unknown creature you’re not prepared to meet with and know nothing about. However, Michael also emphasizes the importance of Vietnam war in relation to this topic, and this war does play a great role in this movie, as a source of being that “other” that influences minds of Americans. Nevertheless, I would not try to concentrate only on Vietnam as the only source of such “hidden enemy.” I’d say that there are a lot more topics for consideration to this point. For example, the French people that decided to occupy some small peace of territory, because they want to win at least some peace of land after loosing all the battles with Nigeria and other countries. They turned this peace of land into their home and, thus, became new “others:” as rebellious as hiding in the woods savages, but different from them and no less harmful for their enemies.
    Another such topic or theme for me was the case with Kurtz’ philosophy and the Kurz himself. At first he appears to everybody as a purely insane man out of control: enormously dangerous other that should be terminated. However, later on it turns out that it is not his mind that is being insane but, in fact, the wrong beliefs that he possesses. Beliefs that dictate “you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not, then they are enemies to be feared” (“Apocalypse Now Redux”). Therefore, Kurtz becomes a true horror himself. Horror for people that trust him (tribe that he keeps on torturing and killing) and horror for people that did (in the military). He is the “other” that “hides in the bushes” and he is that “other” that “influences mind” in a way of torturing it (the mind) in the same way, as filled with horror Vietnam war did.

    Apocalypse Now Redux. Dir. Francis Ford Coppola. Perf. Marlon Brando and Martin Sheen. Lionsgate, 1979. Amazon. Web. 2 Feb. 2016

  18. Haley Nelson says:

    The film Apocalypse Now, directed by Francis Coppola, perhaps more than any other film I’ve seen became more and more impossible to define the more thought and consideration I devoted to it, especially in the context of our prompt, “What “themes of otherness” struck you in the film, and what does this film tell you about who the “other” is?” Regarding the prompt, it seemed as though no matter how one conjured a definition of an “Other,” there was evidence to suggest its inclusion in the film, which Michael Richardson in his book “Otherness in Hollywood Cinema” aptly states, “As rich as [Apocalypse Now] is, its meaning constantly slips away and it confounds any attempt at pidgeon-holing.” In this regard, I feel as though there were several viable themes of “Otherness” in the film, ranging from those more obvious and localized to the Vietnam war itself, stretching to “Otherness” as a synonym for “that which is unknown” in general.

    Ultimately, I was able to categorize the film into three categories of “Otherness”:
    1) “Others” in the scope of war
    2) “Others” in the scope of the morality of war
    3) “Others” in the scope of the general unknown

    Regarding the first, there is of course the historical context of the film to consider. Upon the US’s arrival in Vietnam, the conflict between South Vietnam and the Viet Cong guerrillas was already in swing. The United States became involved based on a fear that Communism would bleed into Vietnam during its internal conflict, and occupy the open political wounds. However, the importance of the US’s role in the war was largely self-misconstrued; the US fought a war alongside the Vietnamese, but not entirely for the same reasons. As Linh Dinh outlines in the article “Apocalypse Lies”:

    To many Americans, the Vietnam war was an American extravaganza, staged in Vietnam. To concede that it was a civil war is to relegate America to a supporting role in someone else’s drama. But that is exactly what it was: someone else’s drama. In spite of all the billions spent by the US, the Vietnam war was essentially a Vietnamese affair. The stakes were simply much higher for them.

    In this way, the US seems an unusual addition to the war, which sets itself apart from the Vietnamese as the “Other” from the get-go, both in the eyes of the Vietnamese, and in the eyes of US soldiers. In essence, there was little agreement between the two countries on the reasons the war was being fight, and the ultimate goals they each sought to achieve. We (the audience) sort of get this taste in our mouths from the film, as the movie makes no efforts to illustrate the enemy, its motives, and ideologies throughout the film (in fact, they physically remain hidden/invisible throughout the film). The lack of clarity in this regards heavily mirrors the experience of Vietnam veterans, who often cited post-war that the intentions for their being there remained unclear throughout the war.

    On the second point, elements of “Otherness” in relation to the morality of war are played out in the film. Upon arrival in Vietnam, many of the soldiers realized that their sense of morality is not as black and white as it was made out to be prior to their involvement in war. Upon close contact with war, the classic definitions of morality which were known to soldiers (the code of ethics defined by their culture, upbringing, etc.) became ambiguous; the enemy was humanized, and themselves dehumanized upon coming to terms with their own inhumane transgressions. The horrors of war, then, instigated a descent into disillusionment for many soldiers, and an ultimate personal reconsideration of what really is moral.

    I found it interesting that the main characters in the film mirrored this descent into disillusionment, but at different stages. Chef, for example, remains perhaps the most morally-chaste character (in the sense that war has not shifted his conception of morals, but rather vehemently rejects it at times, and consequently is continually horrified with wartime activities). Clean is similar to Chef, in that his conception of morality is largely unchanged by war (as was evident from his general apathy and preoccupation with things that reminded him of home), but Clean did participate when was necessary for survival, and his morals must have shifted to justify that. Chief exhibited a shift in moral attitude, and ultimately aligned with the US government’s version of morality, wherein normal moral transgressions are considered exceptionally acceptable when fighting for a cause. Chief never seems enthralled to participate in such ways, but still nevertheless adopts the moral code, and follows his orders. Lance strikes me as morally neutral. He is an extremely fluid character, and seems to adapt to the moral landscape he is placed in pretty seamlessly. Whether he’s participating in the bombing of a potential surfing spot, or integrating into Kurtz’s battalion of native soldiers, Lance seems to hold no moral qualms, and rather adopts what comes his way without much consideration or internal conflict. Colonel Kilgore, on the other hand, whole-heartedly adopts of the US government’s moral code, and in fact thrives in it. His moral transgressions are blaring in their horror, but he is able to justify them by deferring to the wartime morality with particular affinity. Similar to Kilgore, for Captain Willard, adopting a wartime morality is unavoidable, but unlike Kilgore, he is able to categorize wartime morality as an ethical bastardization. Kurtz is the last incarnation of war-warped morals; similar to Willard, Kurtz seemed to have come to the same realization: that wartime morality is a bastardization. However, Kurtz took it a step further; concocting a perception of morality based on the notion that a judgment-less brutality is the most perfect presentation of human nature. Kurtz didn’t reject wartime morality as an excuse to commit horrible crimes, but rather adopted it as the ultimate expression of human nature. Thus underlies the difference between Kurtz and Willard; Willard, although deeply affected by the atrocities of war, was able to convince himself (after much deliberation throughout the film) that war was a moral anomaly that should not be adopted wholesale, while Kurtz completely adopted it.

    The differing moral stances of these characters create an interesting interplay of “Otherness” throughout the film. In a number of scenes wherein moral stances clash, the audience is given the sense that one moral attitude is getting demonized, while the other is being glorified; thus implicitly creating a moral “Other.” For example, when Chef, Clean, Chief, Lance, and Willard stop the sampan for a routine search, a misunderstanding leads to the fear-induced slaughter of the sampan occupants, save for one wounded woman. The men on the boat responsible for murdering the sampan crew immediately feel remorse, and rally to take the wounded woman to a doctor. Disagreeing with their obvious moral dissonance in that moment, Willard shoots the woman for the sake of continuing the mission. In this moment, we are simultaneously horrified by Willard’s cold blood as much as we are with the mindless slaughter committed by the crew. Our objective instincts lead us to side with the remorseful crew and place Willard in the category of moral “Otherness”, but a following quote by Willard gives us pause to consider who the “Other” might really be:

    It was a way we had over here of living with ourselves. We’d cut them in half with a machine gun, and give them a Band-Aid. It was a lie. And the more I saw of them, the more I hated liars. Those boys were never going to look at me the same way again, but I felt like I knew one or two things about Kurtz, that weren’t in the dossier.

    Up until this point, the audience’s sense of morality has informed their view of the film’s events, but in this scene we are confronted with the profound reality that Willard has come to realize about how one’s morality warps during wartime. We also see a shift in what we consider the “Other” as being; the “Other” in the eyes of the audience is no longer defined by those who revel in brutality, but those who commit brutality yet lie to themselves by saying it was necessary.

    Regarding the third point, many of the themes of “Otherness” can be grouped into a category I like to think of as the “general unknown,” which encompasses the other themes of “Otherness” as well. Michael Richardson, who authored “Otherness in Hollywood Cinema” seems to agree with this notion; stating “We perhaps need to understand that ‘Vietnam’, in the context of the US experience of it, is not a place but just a word, a word that really means the ‘Other’ or simply the ‘unknown’” (144). The film does much to encourage “Otherness” as “unknown”, and in fact, much of the plot and the progression of events is centered around dealing and coping with the unknown. The trip up the Nung River towards an unknown fate, the uncertainty of Kurtz’s psychological state, the inability to preempt a violent encounter with the enemy, etc. The lack of clarity surrounding what the characters know for sure, what they don’t know, and what they think they know, underlies much of the tension present in the film, and drives the behavior of the film’s many characters, as well as Willard’s entire mission itself.

    Like many Hollywood films, creating a protagonist and antagonist, or in other words, an identifiable entity and an opposing “Other” helps cue the audience as to who (or what) we should be rooting for and against, respectively. But it is precisely the broad scope and changing definition of “Otherness” in the film that makes it such a success. The bipolarity of our sympathies as we watch the film underscores much of the take-away I think the audience is supposed to receive: that the lines of war are blurry, in the intentions of war, it’s exceptional structure of morality, and what we do know, don’t know, and think we know about the nature of it all.

    Dinh, Linh. (2001) “Apocalypse Lies.” The Guardian. Retrieved on: September 17, 2015 from https://www.theguardian.com/film/2001/nov/02/artsfeatures.londonfilmfestival2001

    Richardson, Michael. (2010) Otherness in Hollywood Cinema. New York. The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc.

  19. Aaron Walling says:

    The movie “Apocalypse Now” has a theme of otherness throughout it. Without this key component then the movie itself would have just been another war movie that fades from existence, i.e. “Flags of Our Fathers”. However, this movie did not lose the aspect of otherness which gives the audience something to hold onto. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines otherness as, “the quality of something being different or unusual.” This is something that this movie hangs it’s hat on. “Apocalypse Now” came out in 1979, long before “Saving Private Ryan” and “Full Metal Jacket”, and in “Apocalypse Now” you can see what post-traumatic stress disorder does to someone which is what the other two movies try to illustrate with certain characters cracking under pressure.
    In one of the first scene you see the otherness come out in a what would seem usual become unusual. The ceiling fan looks harmless but it makes the sound of a helicopter which sets off the PTSD in Benjamin L. Willard which gives the movie the presence it needs to bring up the horror of war and what Vietnam did to people. Throughout the movie you get a sense of otherness from everything around the characters, from the American photojournalist played by Dennis Hopper praising Colonel Kurtz’s brutal tactics with people within the compound to the severed heads that litter the ground around them. However, even with this theme continuing in the movie, it’s the strange similarities between Willard and Kurtz that begins to from as you see them interact. Both long to be back in the jungle, both have gone insane, but one seems to compose himself to prevail in the end with Willard killing Kurtz to complete his mission.
    Something that this otherness brings is the unusual way that Kurtz has brought upon the kingdom he has created. He has subjects; the villagers. He has his “knights of the round table”; the marines he converted. He has examples of what happens when you cross him; the dead bodies lying around. He even has a court jester that spouts out lines of nonsense that baffles Willard. “This is dialectics! It’s very simple dialectics. One through nine. No maybes, no supposes, no fractions. You can’t travel in space, you can’t go out into space, you know, without, like, you know, with fractions.”
    The question of “who is the other?” That is answered early on with Willard discussing his mission with G. Lucas about what is expected of him. Lucas utters the words, “This mission doesn’t exist, nor will it ever exist.” The sense of false identity brings up who is real the villain, all of them are. The real victims are those caught up in the secrecy in the movie, Chef, Mr. Clean, all of them. Even in the end, it is hard to view Willard as a hero after killing Kurtz who bellows out the words, ” the horror…the horror…”. This act of heroism has been seen before in literature from years ago. For example, Odysseus’ fight against the Cyclops kind of mirrors the conflict with one person invading another’s home.
    This movie was a joy to watch, with the themes having motifs throughout it. In the end, the image of Chef’s head in Willard’s lap will still get me because of how sudden it was.

    • Johnny Payne says:

      I like that Odysseus reference! This film is profoundly disaffecting, to the point where a head landing in someone’s lap is from the most abnormal occurrence in a week’s time. As you point out, the “othering” begins with Lucas, who sets the tone for working in a disconnected manner that precludes mutual understanding.

  20. Shelina says:

    In this film I find a very jaded and PTSD ridden man. While those may not typically go together you see two different sides to him. One side is very insensitive, speaking of killing many people as if it was nothing. He goes into this mission to kill another man. Then on the other side, in be beginning of the film, you see him in a very venerable state, seems to be very disturbed by the things he has seen, or done. He does not openly talk about it, but that is the way I interpreted the behavior. The trashing of the room could also be seen as a drunken state, but I found it to be more of a raw emotional scene. There are so many other ways to show being belligerently drunk than trashing a room, and smearing blood on his face. I currently work as an Emergency Services Dispatcher. Working with police I find a lot of the more senior officers to have a jaded view as well. I believe this is due to the amount of things that they have seen. When you have to deal with such high emotional things on such a regular basis you have to create that barrier. When you create that wall, when you lose the emotions, you become a different person. I feel that when anyone becomes that person they are constantly fighting the “other”. They know the evil that “others” can produce, that they themselves can do. When you are pushed to your limits, when you are staring at your life or theirs, when you make the choice to take another’s life, you are forever changed into a different person. I feel that in this film to him, everyone else was an “other” that he couldn’t relate to anyone else. In law enforcement I feel that there are very strong ties to your fellow officers, the “others” are the general public. While I don’t feel that officers don’t understand the public, but have to be on edge, always watching for someone that may be attempting to harm you, never knowing if the next traffic stop will be someone that is wanted and dangerous. The only time that officers feel like they can put that guard down is when they are around other officers. This film can be interpreted many ways and I feel that it is one of those types of films that as you watch it at different times in your life you will find different meanings within. I can see “others” as also being the United States against the world. Any time you see someone that appears to be Vietnamese you automatically assume they are against the United States, or you see their villages being blown up. There is constant reminder that they are the “others”, dead bodies on beaches or standing on the outside of the fence during the preforming women.

    • Johnny Payne says:

      Your comparison to other armed public servants such as police is apt. A hardening takes places, part of survival, and at its worst, it can become a form of alienation even against people you are sworn to protect. In war, everyone can be an enemy. As a Dispatcher, you are at the command center of a complex triage that pits adrenaline against calm in situations of crisis. Presumably, everyone will behave and respond in a rational way, but we are talking about human beings, who are a mix of empathy and fear.

    • Mitchel says:

      I like that you have personal experience to relate to the movie. Thank you for sharing. I took the criminal justice ethics class and it taught me alot about the different cultures and problems within the policing world that i wouldn’t have had appreciation for otherwise.

  21. Anonymous says:

    I think that there are a great deal of themes of “otherness” in Francis Ford Coppola’s film, “Apocalypse Now”– but what struck me as an overarching theme was the notion that “othering” is an entirely personal belief. At several points during the film we can see characters and groups “othering” one another, from the very outset when we are shown a Willard who has degenerated into a drunken depression– a Willard who we are clearly meant to view as someone on the outside who, while still relatable, is very different from ourselves (ideally, I suppose). Once more, in almost the very next scene, we can see another incredibly compelling “othered” character introduced: Colonel Kurtz. As Kurtz and Willard’s mission are introduced, Willard begins to see the process of “othering” of himself undone . We see him form connections with “our own” (American soldiers), begin to find some semblance of purpose, and come back into the realm of similarity with ourselves as Americans (granted, the relation would have been much more easily formed with an audience of a more similar time period, but I digress). But Willard’s reprieve from our “othering” is short-lived. As he continues on his path he begins to question what he is doing, the acts he is called on to commit, and the people he has to hurt to achieve his goal. I think there is a very powerful scene that illustrates Willard’s mind during this process: The Bunny show. As Willard watches, we can see that while there are both Americans and Vietnamese present, he is among neither group. Willard is, due to his own psyche and judgement alone, no longer a member of either culture.

    I think that if the situation had been changed, we could very well have seen Willard become his very own kind of Kurtz. Had he been given a different assignment, as he had continued to serve in the war, he very well may have destroyed his own identity and committed the all-too-common act of “othering” upon himself. From there, it would have been a very short step to finding his own “village” and trying to force his way in as one of their own.

    • Erik Rickards says:

      My mistake, I forgot to add my name.

    • Johnny Payne says:

      You hit on a key point here of why Willard cannot really become Kurtz: he simply cannot identify with anyone, even as a form of escapism. As you state, at the beginning of the film there is a bait and switch. They bait him back into service by placing him with “our own” in the most cynical way. Not even they believe in that concept, they just use it pragmatically. Once he’s on the hook, the switch is the mission. The terms of engagement ensure that he will free-float through this experience, trying to do “the right thing” almost as a reflex, as opposed to a moral imperative.

    • Ekaterina says:

      Very interesting way to view “otherness” as a way of “abstractness.” I think I’ll agree with you. It’s just one more type of “otherness” reflected in the film. Although, if putting it into a larger category, I would say that it refers to the “otherness” as the game of mind, where everything is unclear and uncertain, like with the enemy that’s hiding in the bushes (a standard way of defining the “other” by Richardson).

    • Mitchel says:

      Interesting that you view Otherness as something you apply to yourself, rather than something you apply to someone else. I had not thought of that.

  22. cedierolf says:

    The film Apocalypse Now, directed by Francis Coppola, is about Army Captain Willard being sent out to Vietnam in 1970 to complete a mission that “does not exist – nor will it ever exist.” The mission being to eliminate a Green Beret Colonel, Colonel Kurtz, that has gone completely mad. As Captain Willard gets further and further into the Vietnam jungle and battling the Viet Cong he starts to find himself becoming increasingly like the man he was sent out to kill. In this film the military not only battles the hardships of war, ptsd, and the Viet Cong, but also the struggles that come from within. Apocalypse Now tackles the theme of otherness and otherness is defined “to be an individual who is perceived by a group as not belonging; as they have been culturally constructed as being fundamentally different in some way. The group sees itself as the ‘standard’ and judges those who do not meet that norm and perceived as lacking essential characteristics possessed by the group, the ‘Other’ is almost always seen as a lesser or inferior being and is treated accordingly” (“The Concept of the ‘Other’ in Literature”). Between the actual war enemy, being the Viet Cong, the awol Colonel, and each soldier’s inner struggle, otherness is presented consistently throughout the film. The real enemy wasn’t Vietnam but instead themselves.
    From the very beginning of the film one can already see that Captain Willard is battling his own demons and slowly deteriorating. Then he is sent out to commit this heinous act on one of his own people. The Vietnam war consisted of so much murder, insanity, and instability that everyone started to slowly degenerate and become corrupt. The Vietnam war was considered to be the only war that the U.S. lost and this was because there was no way of winning, everyone lost something. The biggest loss being, themselves.



    Works Cited
    Richardson, Michael. Otherness in Hollywood Cinema. New York: Continuum, 2010. Print.
    “The Concept of the ‘Other’ in Literature.” The Concept of the “Other” in Literature. Blogger, 18 Apr. 2011. Web. 20 Sept. 2015.

    • Johnny Payne says:

      We’ve seen the enemy, and he is us.

    • Mikayla Hamlin says:

      I completely agree with you that the enemy they were fighting was themselves. The opening scene of Captain Willard is a great example. He had already succumbed to the war and had lost himself during his first couple of tours in Vietnam. Once he was home he had already given up on the life he had there, he just wanted to get back to the “jungle”. And I like how you ended saying the biggest loss was themselves! This war ended up being a huge failed attempt at resolving Vietnam’s problems for them, we just ended up creating bigger problems for ourselves with no goal in sight.

  23. djrupp says:

    I think all in all, my favorite projection of “otherness” within the film is simply that character of Kurtz. Kurtz is an extremely complex character in the sense that he, to some extent, is aware of his actions and negative repercussions they may have as evidenced in his speech at the end where he simultaneously nitpicks and yet idolizes the Viet Cong for what he regards as their savagery and willing ruthlessness. On the same note, even though he may have sort of affinity for the Vietnamese and attempts to almost, in a sense, indoctrinate himself into the villagers culture as he fancies himself to be a leader that they evidently need, he succeeds only in casting himself so far from their society that they genuinely are not phased at all when he is murdered. Even though he feels a kinship due to their common enemy, Kurtz, though he does not see himself as doing so, only continues to perpetuate american imperialism by assuming that he is embraced rather then tolerated, as even though he has changed the villagers standing in his mind to be less of “others”, the action is not a mutual one. Kurtz, unable to accept his own “otherness” due to the self centered nature that the american spirit has bred into him, projects himself forcefully as a “divine” leader upon a society comprised of an entire different ethnic and cultural group then his own because, as Richardson points out, his own white savior complex, and therefore inbred belief in the need to change other cultures better match his own, dictates that he must or he has not lived up to “freedom for all” ideal set forth by not only the american dream notion rampant during the time period, but the very asinine notion of the wars cause and justification as a whole. All in all, Kurtz is simply another John Smith, fighting a battle he has no part in on land he has no stake to, and he hates it.

    • djrupp says:

      Whoops, forgot to credit the book.

      Richardson, Michael. (2010) Otherness in Hollywood Cinema. New York. The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc.

    • cedierolf says:

      You did a perfect synopsis of who Kurtz was. I completely agree that he was not able to accept his otherness but was completely aware of it. He knew he was starting to go a bit mad but saw himself as more of a savior than anything. Your John Smith connection is one that I didn’t make but is completely true. He is in a battle that he has no part of and by being in the middle of the conflict he has in turn created one within himself. The Vietnam war was one of the most questionable wars the U.S. was apart of and it destroyed the soldiers physically and mentally.

    • Johnny Payne says:

      You offer an interesting interpretation as Kurtz as merely tolerated by the Vietnamese, and only idolized in his fantasy. I like this thought, because it suggests that those villagers, who seem like passive followers, are simply managing things for their own convenience. By this token, Kurtz is just a drama queen.

  24. aahewitt says:

    Apocalypse Now is a movie created in 1979 produced and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. The movie is about an American soldier, Captain Willard, whom is sent on a mission in Vietnam to “terminate” a Colonel Kurtz. Colonel Kurtz is an American soldier that went gone off mission in the wilderness and was treated as a God by the Natives he was around. Colonel Kurtz was no longer taking orders from the U.S. Army when he was supposed to and that is why Captain Willard was sent on his mission.

    When watching the film for the “theme of others” or who the “other” is it can be interpreted throughout the whole film. The “theme of others” would be everything involving Vietnam. The whole atmosphere of the American soldiers and the native people are so buzzard in Vietnam but to them it seems perfectly normal. Captain Willard sat back and watched everyone act crazy. This “otherness” seems to be whatever makes everyone act so odd. This can be backed up by when Captain Willard is discussing getting off their boat when they are on the river. A soldier goes off the boat and comes back yelling and panicking saying, “don’t get off the boat.” Captain Willard agrees with this statement and then he thinks “Colonel Kurtz got off the boat” and how he is sent to terminate Colonel Kurtz. Also, the more Captain Willard and the soldiers on the boat went closer to Colonel Kurtz and farther into the wilderness the more crazy people and the soldiers on the boat acted. The movie made it seem like the further one went into Vietnam the more they were lost which implied that Vietnam was the “otherness” or “theme of others.”

    If the “other” would be a specific person I would think it would be Colonel Kurtz. I think this because he is the main part of the movie. If Colonel Kurtz did not have to be terminated there would be no purpose to the movie. Whatever is making Colonel Kurtz act the way he is represents the “other.” Which in the end of the movie is ended by Captain Willard. I do not think that one person should represent the “other” but more like in the paragraph before that everything in Vietnam was the “theme of others.”

    -Austyn Hewitt

    • cedierolf says:

      Otherness is definitely portrayed in many ways through out the film. Everything Vietnam is the most common and obvious form of other as it is who the U.S. were invading and fighting against but once you look deeper you see that the “other” is so much more. The people started to have inner turmoil and were slowly deteriorating from who they once were. You can blame it on the war, the “jungle fever”, or the heinous acts they committed but soon these soldiers became everything they hated. They themselves became the other.

    • Ekaterina says:

      I totally agree. From what you’ve said it looks like that the topic of “otherness” stays very close to the topic of fear. It is not merely the difference with something that is being called “the other,” but also the fear of that unknown that can be the potential enemy. No wonder that main characters are afraid to get off the boat. I’d say that your phrase that “The ‘theme of others’ would be everything involving Vietnam” is the key one here.

  25. Mikayla Hamlin says:

    There are many themes of “otherness” in the film Apocalypse Now. In the way that many of the American soldiers lost themselves (or rather found a different part of themselves) in Vietnam. It was interesting in the book, Otherness in Hollywood Cinema, because Richardson makes a good point that the film was never about the Vietnam War or the people there; it was more about an individualistic perspective of the Americans. Richardson states in his book, “It was always about something within ‘ourselves’” (Richardson 139). It was even more evident that the film wasn’t meant to be an accurate depiction of Vietnam because the director Coppola chose to shoot it in the Philippines instead and it was not a very accurate portrayal of the landscape the Americans fought on in Vietnam. Coppola also focuses a lot on the “jungle” along the river the men are floating along. But in actuality Richardson says that the true landscape of Vietnam consists of over-populated agricultural regions (140).

    The imperialist agenda of America is always being involved in other countries’ business. This was definitely the case with the Vietnam War. We never care about the negative impact we might have on the other country’s people. Apocalypse Now does a good job of highlighting this aspect of the American view by solely focusing on the American and never on the Vietnamese that were impacted by the war. The true people the Americans were fighting against was themselves. So I think the “other” is the thing within themselves that Richardson was talking about. There are so many instances of insanity in this film. The scene where Colonel Kilgore was forcing his men to go surfing on the beach, in the middle of bombings and everything going on, was completely idiotic. And of course the whole idea of Kurtz being worshipped as a god by his own minion village in the jungle is complete madness. I like when Richardson described the film as, “representing a genuine journey into the depths of the soul, not only Coppola’s own soul, but the soul of the United States itself. It was precisely a confrontation with otherness” (140). It’s almost as if they lose themselves completely to the “other” inside them unto the point of no return.

    The “other” could also be considered the unknown because the jungle of “Vietnam” is repeatedly described in the film as some dark, scary unknown. Captain Willard says in the film, “‘Vietnam’ only exists when they leave the boat and it is a dangerous and threatening place, the place in which the other is hidden, and into which one should not enter unless one is ‘going all the way’” (138).

    • aahewitt says:

      I agree that the “other” would be Vietnam or the jungle of Vietnam. In the movie it repeatedly seems that the more the soldiers are involved with the jungle the more crazy and weird things got. Colonel Kurtz buzzard situation of the natives thinking he is a God and how he represented himself in the jungle can definitely prove that the “other” is something deep in the jungle. You did really good explaining your way of thinking with the “other” theme and did a great job with so many quotes.

      -Austyn Hewitt

    • Johnny Payne says:

      Good response to the assigned reading. I do wish more of the class had commented on the essay. Otherness is all around them, but most of all, in themselves. And that one cannot outrun.

    • Heather Corcoran says:

      You brought up Richardson mentioning how the landscape differs in the film versus what Vietnam actually looks like. It reminded me of Richardson also discussing how Coppola also used the river as a sort of buffer zone. It was interesting for me to think back on the film and realize that when they were on the boat there really wasn’t much conflict. The only instance I can think of was when they approached the junk boat and ended up killing everyone on it. Over all I can’t recall myself ever feeling uneasy when they were on the boat, it seemed to be a safe place were you could reflect on who these men actually were before they went to war or who they hoped to be upon returning.

  26. Heather Corcoran says:

    As the film begins we are introduced to the character or Captain Willard, played by Martin Sheen. He’s in a hotel room in Saigon degenerating into a drunken mess, deeply wrapped in an internal struggle. Though Captain Willard serves as our viewpoint in the film, it is interesting that he himself no longer is fully of society. This began for me a lasting exploration what you must be in war, and the cost of that transformation.
    The idea of “otherness” stuck me throughout the entire film. As Captain Willard is receiving his mission there was a particular tension. He was split between his reluctance to take the mission, fatigued with war and killing, and the realization that he is perhaps no longer fit for the world he left to defend. I think in this situation he sees himself as the other because the men who are giving him the orders don’t fully understand what they are asking him to do and how it will affect him mentally. I also felt a certain fatalism, as if he was trying to spare another man the cost of this journey and wondering if they could make it anyway.
    Here is where Captain Willard is introduced to the team of men who will accompany him upriver to his destination. We meet Chef, Lance, Tyrone, and Chief. These men all come from different backgrounds and have experienced the war differently. They provide an interesting counterpoint of comparatively mundane people against whom the more seasoned and callous Willard is contrasted. This reaches its ultimate extension in the scene with the boat where Willard coolly executes the Vietnamese woman. The other soldiers had only killed out of frantic fear in a burst of aggression. Willard hangs in a balance between the naive soldiers and the too far gone madness of the later encounter Kurtz (and to a lesser degree Kilgore).
    They meet the powerful character Lt. Colonel Kilgore. He is truly separate from society in that he lacks the proper concern for safety, and seems to give no gravity to the brutality of the fighting around him. His most pressing concern is the potential for surfing and killing, and he constantly abuses his authority to pursue both. Though it is somewhat comical, in his own way his just as mad as anyone else in the film, it is merely expressed in a more palatable form. His detachment and insanity is visible in the wary attitude of the men surrounding him, men who seem to still be aware of their own mortality.
    Throughout the film we see Cpt. Willard studying everything he can about the man he is hunting. To me this echoed my early thoughts of the cost of doing this sort of business. In learning to best understand Kurtz, will Willard be at risk of further corruption? As Willard learns more, he becomes increasingly curious until he’s finally pulled upriver by Kurtz’s magnetism.
    Willard and the remaining crew finally arrive at the village where Kurtz resides as a deity. In this situation, the idea of the other takes on a more obvious form as the crew are confronted by the natives. Upon the initial meeting with Kurtz, he and Willard don’t seem too different. At this point the three remaining crewmen diverge, with Lance submerging himself in the local culture while Willard and Chef remain aloof.
    Chef’s murder and Willard’s imprisonment complete cutting all connection with the anchoring influence of civilization. No airstrike is coming, perhaps just another doomed Captain somewhere down the line. Kurtz begins a sort of education of Willard, and their talks he emphasizes that to not just survive but thrive in a horrible situation, once must embrace the horror or even become it. When Kurtz is eventually killed, I was left with a lingering question of what it had cost him. It was ambiguous for me whether the killing represented Willard finding the answers he needed and thus beginning the return to society, or the final step in him becoming the other.

    • Johnny Payne says:

      For Willard, it seems, everyone is the other, whether American or Vietnamese. But you portray him credibly as a liminal or intermediate figure. He stands outside everyone. but he gradually “others” himself as he approaches Kurtz. His aloof quality in the end doesn’t saving him from getting drawn in. Caring what happens does not seem to be a prerequisite for being transformed. One way or the other, through mere exposure, you get caught up in events.

  27. Shelly DeWilde says:

    The themes of Otherness and what it is is most evident in whole by the way the movie is moving itself and the reflections that Captain Willard had throughout. It directly questions the otherness in where the U.S. going in this endless fight with Vietnam and in hindsight of the movie and the war of what are America’s goals and motives for other countries. These questions are very evident in this scene when Willard is talking with the French family and they state that the U.S. was taking their place and that what they are doing in Vietnam is nothing. In reflection America’s goals are unsound due to the chaos and length of the war.
    Colonel Kurts says “but you have no right to judge me,” bringing this idea that the Captain and his crew call the Vietnamese names and kill them unmercifully confronting this theme of otherness because they are making themselves blind to them and as a reflection is effecting the U.S. too. Kurtz also says “you have to have men who are moral, and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling, without passion, without judgment, without judgment! Because it’s judgment that defeats us,” defeats the U.S. army and as a reflection the U.S. as a whole by not confronting and questioning the otherness.
    When the photojournalist in Colonel Kurtz’s Apocalypse Now zone says “this is the way the fucking world ends! Look at this fucking shit we’re in, man! Not with a bang, but with a whimper. And with a whimper, I’m fucking splitting, Jack.” He believes Kurtz is depicting how the apocalypse is going to go. The U.S.’s goals are chaotic and always moving in Vietnam creating a hell hole that the journalist believes will end the ‘world.’ The ‘world’ being the U.S., which creates this otherness in the idea that America is a manifestation of where the world is going. This arrogance and ignorance blind the U.S. to confront and try to understand the otherness which I believe the director is stating will bring the end of the ‘world.’ This is also demonstrated when the photographers in the beginning were stating keep walking, ignore us, keep walking taking pictures of the soldiers marching past however a little further over there was dead Vietnamese soldiers, citizens and American soldiers in body bags giving America this lack of confronting the otherness overseas.
    The absurdity of the movie such as one man taking out a genius rogue with an army of worshippers, U.S soldiers and lieutenant Colby. Also the River Nung which was completely made up and the sort of Willy Wonka effect of going down it calls Kurtz statement of no judgment to mind and how the director either accidental or intentional made a film based on the Americans view of Vietnam, however warped that is, manifests this theme of otherness that makes itself hopefully apparent to the viewers. Otherness of how the movie depicted Vietnam and otherness in how the U.S. was quick to envision and judge what was going on down there. This movie was a hailstorm of disparities making it chaotic and displaced when trying to analyze.
    The most heart wrenching scene was when Clean, Lance and Chef shoot that family up and realize it was over a puppy then after try to save the dying woman, as I believe a sort of redemption, then Captain Willard kills her and reflects that he hates lies as Colonel Kurtz also did. The director I believe was stating these two characters understood the nature of themselves whereas the other soldiers did not. Justification it seemed was what gave the other soldiers purpose in killing. The racial and cultural bias of the soldiers is another example of confronting the otherness.

    • Johnny Payne says:

      The Willy Wonka effect–I will have to remember that one. I never would have thought to associate these two movies.

  28. brittanyhoch says:

    On the subject of otherness in the film Apocalypse Now directed by Francis Coppola, I think the first thing to do would be define otherness. According to the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Rasmuson library dictionary otherness is defined as “the quality of being not alike; being distinct or different from that otherwise experienced or known.” To me the otherness in Apocalypse Now was the Vietnamese and Cambodian people but also in the end even Kurtz, but also Vietnam itself. At the beginning of the film Willard is narrating about his new mission, he says, “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 it was an American, and an officer. That wasn’t supposed to make any difference to me, but it did.” Willard is admitting that to him, just being an American makes Kurtz somehow different from the Vietnamese he has previously killed, maybe more human or just more known. And he proves that is the way he feels when he shoots the wounded Vietnamese woman on the boat they pull over. She is so unimportant and so much less known, that her life was outweighed by expediency, there was no time to take her to a doctor. I doubt he would have shown the same lack of concern had it been an American wounded on that boat. I think these two scenes struck me the most in regards to otherness in the movie, however it was not the only form of otherness, but they were the most obvious to me. In the book Otherness in Hollywood Cinema by Michael Richardson, he makes an interesting point about the end of the movie and how they show a large group of Montagnards worshiping Kurtz (a white man) and how culturally for them this is impossible, but also points out that most Americans viewing this movie accepted this rather than rejecting it, along with other parts of the film. He points out that this is due to the way people assume their cultural ways are observed everywhere else and so while white people have been known to worship other white people (in America, he uses the Jonestown incident as an example), that trend has never been recognized “anywhere in the world (and certainly not in Vietnam).” But I think this is an important point, Americans view this movie, and the rest of the world, based on what we know and have experienced, and this leads to the ‘otherness’ portrayed and viewed in movies today. We don’t understand or care to understand other cultures especially not in most American made films. We portray foreign people of other ethnicity and cultures as maybe less civilized or less human than ourselves, we don’t see that there are vast cultural differences and views and we don’t take them into account. In the article Apocalypse Lies by Linh Dinh, they refer to the Vietnamese as being portrayed as savages in the film, but that, “Savages, once you get to know them, turn out to be no different from the buddies and the wives you’ve left behind.” And I think this is a good point, the idea of otherness is out there, and there are cultural differences and beliefs that should not be ignored but that we are all human in the end. I think the entirety of Vietnam from the people to the land was considered ‘Other’ in Apocalypse Now, or in other words the unknown or the different.

    Richardson, Michael. (2010) Otherness in Hollywood Cinema. New York. The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc.
    Dinh, Linh. (2001) “Apocalypse Lies.” The Guardian. Retrieved on: September 16, 2015 from https://www.theguardian.com/film/2001/nov/02/artsfeatures.londonfilmfestival2001

    • Shelly DeWilde says:

      Ethnocentric is the word that comes to mind when reading your post and I’m so happy that otherness could be defined in another way due to its ambiguity and large spectrum it could encompass. In Chapter 8 in Otherness in Hollywood the writer sort of tells the reader the folly in combining Manifest Destiny and the American Dream which creates the other and blinds them at the same time. I like your perspective on the Captains shooting of the woman with the puppy, that he values her less and I believe that too however I also believe he was unlike his comrades in that he didn’t try to lie about it and use trying to save her as a sort of redemption for putting holes through her and her family such as what Lance, Chef and Clean did.

    • Johnny Payne says:

      It’s an open question whether this is the viewpoint of the filmmaker or just the characters. When the movie first came out, opinion was divided. I think too many people had seen movies of cowboys and Indians, Japs in WWII, Nazis in submarines, Africans in the bush acting like children, etc. etc., and it was just too easy not to reflect on that portrayal. To some extent, as the movie has aged, I tend to think that Coppola knew exactly what he was doing. As several students on this forum have noted, the “other” ultimately is the soldiers.

  29. Oren Brown says:

    It is no secret that Francis Coppola’s Apocalypse Now is derived from the Joseph Conrad classic Heart of Darkness and one could wager that Michal Richardson’s “otherness” of the film is exactly that, the darkness of the heart. Though much speculation is made pertaining to the otherness being that of the unknown, a more reasonable explanation explains that the “otherness” is known, just lacking in distinct form and clear articulation. Even the act considering these ideas of the unknown and “otherness” builds a magnetism to spiraling into the abyss of the most literal unknown. Exploring these ideas in any form is as mundane as they are futile, by very definition. Pondering, or worse yet explaining, what the unknown is composed of is impossible. This story is about madness and its imperceptible imitation that is reality. In a sense, this film most closely resembles the physical properties of a rainbow, each interpretation is unique, and distinct to each viewer, and depends on the frame of reference that viewer possesses.
    The meanings that can come from interpreting the scenes of Apocalypse are near infinite, most explicitly true when considering Coppola omitted and subsequently struggled with the very same act of definition (Hearts 1991). The mere idea that the director faced existential crisis in completing and accepting the film upon its release heartily testifies to the difficulty of interpreting the meanings of the work. Were one to speculate, it could be purposed that the story is a chronicle of a man’s journey, not only in body, but exceptionally so of the mind. The adventure of body reaching a destination, and for the mind, an enlightenment. Many scenes and ideas symbolize, in particular, the enlightenment unique to Heart/Apocalypse. Kurtz talks about evil not being the enemy, but the fear itself, when he states:
    “It’s impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror. Horror has a face. And you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not, then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies.” (Apocalypse 1979)
    Kurtz then finally confronts that horror while passing from the last moments of mortality. The hotel scene opening showing Willard’s first impressions on the viewer, supposedly showing the state of a man to be an executioner, and assassin, shows the shame of a man in his most private moments (Hearts 1991), so fueled by self-loathing that he is himself blind to the apathy that haunts him, yet Richardson judges Willard’s ability to be murderous or sacrificial (Otherness 153).
    The unknown is alluded to in numerous incantations throughout the film, and those contextual unknowns, to me, make up exactly what Richardson intended “otherness” to be. One unknown explored in the film was the depths of degradation that the human sexuality can crawl to. In one of the most repulsive scenes of the film, the playboy prostitutes are rushed on stage by the G.I.s attending the U.S.O. performance. The gripping imagery of the feverish soldiers clinging to the landing gear of the helicopter in obsessed hope of even the slightest chance of fulfilling their hormone-crazed fantasy with one of these blatantly objectified girls is particular retched and dashingly displays the darkness found in the hearts of men. It shows the depravity man is capable of when he is given license to ignore conscience and social conduct. Kurtz’s madness drove him (was driven?) to believe war could be improved by the lack of concern with consequence, without morality when he explains his antidote of the removal of inoculated arms.
    “I remember when I was with Special Forces. Seems a thousand centuries ago. We went into a camp to inoculate some children. We’d left the camp after we had inoculated the children for polio. And this old man came running after us, and he was crying. He couldn’t say. We went back there, and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm. They were, in a pile. A pile of little arms. And, I remember, I cried, I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. And I want to remember it. I never want to forget it. I never want to forget it. And then I realized, like I was shot, like I was shot with a diamond bullet through my forehead. And I thought, My God, the genius of that! The genius. The will to do that. Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. And then I realized, they were stronger than we. Because they could stand it. These were not monsters. These were men, strained cadres. These men who fought with their hearts, who have families, who have children, who are filled with love…that they had the strength, the strength to do that. If I had ten divisions of those men, then our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral, and at the same time, who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling, without passion. Without judgment. Without Judgment. Because it’s judgment that defeats us.” (Apocalypse 1979)
    Kurtz never reveals who removed the arms, but it brings questions for the viewer to estimate, who in war is the victim, and who is the attacker; who is responsible? Is it those who are injured as a bystander, or those driven to inflict such injury? Some may interpret that it is Kurtz’s (Coppola’s?) message that all at war are the victims, and the faceless politicians who send and order them are the true attackers.
    The scene where Willard trades fuel for time with the playboy prostitutes is chilling, not for how upsetting it is to see sex treated as a commodity for this has always happened and will continue long after this writing is considered. The reason the scene is chilling is because of the way the women make nervous chatter throughout the whole experience, but don’t seem nervous; hollow in a way not uncommon to those who have been commoditized. It seems that being used for one purpose brings on its own scene of apathy to a person in a way that carves a psyche into a shell empty of concern for self-damage. The topic, pitch, rate and volume all remain constant while the men have their specific way with each girl. The girls appear perfectly robotic, a condition likely induced by much psycho-sexual trauma. It is a curious expose’ of human cruelty and coping in this most figurative train-wreck of a scenario. The implications brought to mind by the director including this scene is truly curious, deeper so considering that he left it out of the initial release.
    Apocalypse can be interpreted in many, many ways, and highlights the truly remarkable characteristic of a complex writer or director. Not only was the film not completed when filming began, it went through many iterations and confounded Coppola for years, and yet despite these seeming complications, a great work of art was created that no one could dispute being meaningful. The best critic could only complain that they could not decipher what the writer intended the viewer to take away from the film, and even that could be caused by the shallowness of their own heart, lacking in the intellectual fortitude to recognize the profound.
    Works Cited
    Apocalypse Now Redux. Dir. Francis Ford Coppola. Perf. Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Martin Sheen, Frederic Forrest, Albert Hall, Sam Bottoms, Laurence Fishburne, Dennis Hopper, G. D. Spradlin, Harrison Ford, Scott Glenn, and Glenn Walken. A United Artists Release, 1979.
    Hearts of Darkness–a Filmmaker’s Apocalypse. Dir. Fax Bahr. Triton Pictures, 1991.
    Richardson, Michael. Otherness in Hollywood Cinema. New York: Continuum, 2010. Print.

    • brittanyhoch says:

      The scene where Kurtz is telling Willard of the inoculated children was an interesting part. At first there is a ‘thats awful’ reaction, but then he goes into his thinking during the event, and the reaction is ‘that is an interesting way to see it.’ I think the book ‘Otherness in Hollywood Cinema’ makes an interesting point when it states, “But could not the importance of such an incident rather be more pertinently considered as a refusal of contamination by the enemy – by the values of the invading Americans?” So in this sense we are the other, but I think Kurtz maybe hinted at this reasoning in his retelling but didn’t actually get there. I also liked your statement that, “Some may interpret that it is Kurtz’s (Coppola’s?) message that all at war are the victims, and the faceless politicians who send and order them are the true attackers.” I hadn’t considered it that way before but its an interesting idea.

    • Johnny Payne says:

      I think that “infinite” is an overstatement and that the movie does give clear signals of its meaning. But I do agree that there are a lot of specific areas of ambiguity, especially moral ambiguity as regards the themes of the movie, most especially the power relationships.

    • Mikayla Hamlin says:

      I agree with you that there are so many different ways that this film could possibly be interpreted. Its really hard to figure out what Coppola is really trying to get at, the film is very psychologically complex.

    • Haley says:

      Your point on “a more reasonable explanation explains that the “otherness” is known, just lacking in distinct form and clear articulation” really resonated with me. There’s really not much evidence in the film to suggest that one brand of “Otherness” dominates over another, but upon close inspection, it does kind of seem as though all the kinds of “otherness” we may pick up on is actually lumped into the broad category of “that which lacks clarity.” The whole film lacks clarity, but isn’t that what it wants us to walk away with? That the lack of clarity fuels atrocities and creates chaos? I definitely felt mentally chaotic after watching that film…

  30. Joseph says:

    I was amazed how my eyes were proverbially opened when I read Norris’ and Richardson’s articles on “Apocalypse Now”, then viewed the film. Though I had watched the movie several times over the years, I had primarily enjoyed it strictly as an action film- much to my detriment.

    I found the parallels between imperialism and the indigenous blindingly obvious- even the minutia of how meat was portrayed (pointed out in Norris’s essay-roast vs. slaughtered cow)- the minimizing of the Vietnamese humanity, and preservation of Western social norms. The Playboy Bunny scene, while humorous, reinforces this theme: Pop culture shipped in on a helicopter to the middle of Nowhere, Vietnam.

    What I found most striking, however, was the dualism that Captain Willard projected- “American”, but leaning heavily towards “otherness”. This was evident during the first several minutes of the film: Willard’s face, transposed and inverted over flame, is offset by an upright Buddha’s face, likewise transposed. Darkness and light, strife and cessation from desire. Similarly, Willard eats in the manner of his enemy- squatting low and eating rice from several small bowls- hotel room be damned.

    Following the theme of “otherness”, Willard is imbued with near superhuman abilities, as he his able to detect a tiger in heavy brush, meters away from their position. During the Bunny show, Willard assumes an outsider role, observing from the sidelines, not far from several Vietnamese outside the wire, who are shown peering through a chain link fence.

    The references to prose and poetry in Norris’ and Richardson’s analyses was particularly highlighted towards the end of the film, and is shown to be an integral part of Brando’s character. To me, his character development was anticlimactic, and I found myself more intrigued by the evolution of Willard’s character- from Special Forces soldier to declaring he “wasn’t even in their fuckin’ army anymore”.

    In a sense, Coppola’s film as a whole mirrors T.S. Eliot’s poem, “The Hollow Man”, quoted by the character Kurtz, ending “not with a bang but a whimper.”

    • Shelly DeWilde says:

      I really liked your response and has made me think on the idolatry given to the white U.S. soldiers by the director such as Willard’s animalistic abilities and Kurtz god like intelligence and demeanor bringing Roxanne’s statement of god and animal to light. In this part I didn’t know if the director was confronting the otherness or that this was accidental and he really believes in the idolatry. Trying to understand the directors intentions was impossible. Also another theme of the other was in the end when the Vietnamese were performing their pagan ritual (?) of sacrificing the bull and at the same time Kurtz was sacrificing himself, so many ideas and motifs came together in this part it is hard to clarify however I will say I believe this was an appropriate ending for movie.

      • Johnny Payne says:

        Well I’d day that the film shows a lot of self-awareness and is in a posture of critique. But one can never entirely get behind another’s intentions.

    • aahewitt says:

      Your idea of the “otherness” is very interesting when saying Willard is imbued with near superhuman abilities. When writing my discussion I wrote the “otherness” I focused it being more of Vietnam. Now rethinking the movie with what you said I can definitely see that. Nice discussion post!

      -Austyn Hewitt

      • Joseph says:

        Yeah, I never caught on to it before, but when I watched it this time I thought “Seriously? That tiger was like 30 yards away- how the hell did Willard know something was out there?” It seemed a little unrealistic, but actually fits quite well with the general tone of the film.

    • Johnny Payne says:

      I also have seen it several times, and it does change as you see it more. It is certainly easy to get lost in the action, although there are a number of static scenes where it is sheer tension rather than combat; this is a much more psychological movie than your typical action fare. I wholly agree that Willard is much more interesting than Kurtz. I found Brando’s performance showy and affected, and the “revelation” a big disappointment, after all the build-up.

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