I first saw this film in High School, and I had actually avoided it for a long time because I thought, due to the name and the cover, that it looked like a rather dull horror movie (I thought from the picture on the cover that Marlon Brando's faces was melting). When I finally found out it wasn't a horror movie, I mentioned the mistake to my Dad, who said "well actually it kind of is." When I saw the movie I understood what he was talking about.

The movie is written by the man who I consider to be the best war writer of all time, Michael Herr, who wrote the brilliant novel Dispatches. He is also known for writing Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket. Herr stands at the forefront of a discussion about the legitimate possibility of writing war literature, and representing war to someone who hasn't been there.

The debate in short:

There is a long standing debate over whether it is possible to make an anti-war film at all. Truffaut answered a direct "no," which lead Godard to take up the challenge by, unfortunately, making Les Carabiniers. The argument is essentially that all representation of war treats war as a spectacle that is interesting. It also cannot fail but glorify people who constantly face death, while at the same time the film cannot possibly show the reality of death. Hence, Saving Private Ryan showed that war was ugly, but also that it was ultimately about the heroics of sacrificing one's life for a greater good. There is no real sense in Saving Private Ryan of the full sacrifice that losing ones life entails, we would need to get into theology for that. (there is a similar argument about holocaust films, but that's a whole other movie)

There is a parallel argumentabout the possibility of war literature making sense in the least. Both Tim O'Brien and Michael Herr argue that war literature has to always border on the surreal. Tim O'Brien wrote essays about the strange things that are part of any Vietnam veteran's experience, that cannot be properly encompassed in regular narratives. O'Brien talked about soldiers hearing Vietnamese society parties in the middle of the jungle, Champagne and all. Herr wrote about a battle where hundreds of North Vietnamese were killed, but when the battlefield was inspected only 4 bodies were found. Dispatches is completely without a narrative.

Its because of this, that my Dad argued, and I agree that the last lines of Marlon Brando, "the horror, the horror," should be taken very literally. When we think about war we tend to think about it in the strategic way, or in the tragic way. We have to accomplish goals through force, or we are dying heroically for a worthwhile or worthless cause. What this film does instead is try to show that when your life is constantly in danger, when human life is taken down to minimum value, its impossible to really understand what is going on around you. Things become crazy very fast, and human life, the basis of all value in our world, is the most quickly disposed of object in this situation. Thus the constant atrocities that are a part of every war.

I think what makes Abu Gharibsuch a frightening situation, is that the photographs resemble nothing which we can recognize from human life, yet images such as these are essentially par for the course when it comes to international warfare. These situations happen in EVERY war, and to think that Bush can blame the atrocities on "a few bad eggs" (that all happened to be working together), shows either a disconnection from reality or a disregard for life.

Apocalypse Now is about the horror we see in Abu Gharib photos, in images from the Nanjing massacre, in tails from Mailai. The horror that something you cannot see may be trying to destroy you, something unspeakably evil, something just like you or me, something gaudy and carnivalesque, that looks like your family and loved ones, your country and your president. In other words, you and me.

The film is frightening.

Buy Apocalypse Now here

No comments: