Rock music rose from the burning embers of the ’50s and early ’60s, pushed by a generation of youth roused to action by the socio-cultural ineptitude of their political leaders. Captain Willard (Martin Sheen), in one of the many hopeless monologues that characterize Francis Ford Coppola’s seminal Apocalypse Now, suggests that rock ’n roll already had one foot in the grave when he and his men sailed into Cambodia on their way to kill Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando). It’s no wonder then that the Doors’s Oedipal “The End” feels like the most cunning and ironic song ever incorporated into a film. Carmine Coppola’s synth-laden score gives the film the tenor of a horror flick, and the rock anthems sporadically heard throughout suggest desperate gasps fighting to be heard through tides of change.
The Roman wilderness of pain that Jim Morrison sung about could have been Vietnam, and the king’s highway could be seen as the current Willard navigates to destroy a fellow comrade who’s taken insanity as a lover. Morrison never fought in Vietnam, but his generation of hippies and draft-dodgers joined their crippled freedom-fighting counterparts as the walking wounded of a politicized generation. Not only does Apocalypse Now’s feverishly decaying finale precisely synch up to the musical breakdown that highlights the latter half of “The End,” Kurtz, with his penchant for elliptical verbiage (“I watched a snail crawl along the edge of a straight razor”), recalls the self-destruction that befell Morrison during his tragic final years.
The sex that was understated in Apocalypse Now is elaborated in Redux with the addition of female-centric footage. Consensual objectification pillaged by ungodly violence gives an unflinching dimension to female pain in the Playboy Bunnies sequence. More importantly, though, is the addition of the infamous French plantation scene. Willard’s boat descends upon the Cambodian abode, which is populated by a misguided community of cultural academics with Asians for servants (or, possibly, slaves). As much as the scene slows the film’s pace, it extrapolates on the complex colonialist themes at the center of the film, providing Willard with a romantic tryst and a home should he desire to return after his encounter with Kurtz. Roxanne Sarrault (Aurore Clément) is a Scarlett O’Hara’s French proxy, a grand belle refusing to give up her Tara despite the chaos that threatens to destroy it.
Apocalypse Now is the definitive war-as-hell statement, a frenzied, free-based ode to the anguished soldier and the need-to-numb that crests over him in the face and wake of war. With no offense to Terrence Malick’s existential The Thin Red Line and its singular concern for the plight of the everyman, no war film has matched Coppola’s madly overcooked polemic. With its view of Vietnam as a colonial mud pit being raped by a post-rock generation, it’s as aimless as it is prescient. Coppola’s subjective use of technology (pathologically integrating operatic image and sound) evokes war as a psychedelic fugue state: timeless, horrifying, and affecting us all.