Thursday, 13 June 2013

Apocalypse Now: The Vietnam War on Perception

This blog is the third and last in a series of film studies blogs that I wrote during my own Cultural Studies BA at the University of Leeds. I have loaded them here as a teaching aid. Please click on the links below for the other two blogs:
Framing the Russian Ark
Clockwork Orange

This essay looks at how Vietnam is portrayed in popular culture by using the example of Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now (1979). The Vietnam war was described as ‘the first television war’ and ‘the first postmodern war’ and while modern technology made readily available images of war for those at home, over time subsequent imagery from the multiple films made about the war have become conflated with war footage. This essay provides an example of mediated representations of history through the examination of the scenery, characters, politics and production of the film.

Apocalypse Now is known for its surrealist format: “it is a dream, a baroque dream of napalm and of the tropics, a psychotropic dream” (Baudrillard 1994, p.59). The film begins with the haunting sound of The Doors song The End (appendix 3, p.10) which echoes the reflexive element of the film. In a way Willard has already taken the journey, he took it in his hotel room in the opening scene. It is not necessary for him to actually go down the river: the journey is symbolic. In the same way the war itself was not 'necessary' and was carried out for a whole host of reasons other than the ones presented to the public. The beginning of the film is the end of the film because, as Baudrillard explains, the film and the war are actually about “the reversibility of both destruction and production” (1994, p.60).

Click here for a full downloadable pdf of the essay:
The Vietnam War on Perception


  1. Baudrillard is quite lame, as usual.The Conrad motif is central, and that in turn is Homeric, though as if chronicled by an outside observer who is also a character. The narrative is a journey, and that is central as well. The farther one progresses toward the front lines the more the real technological barbarism of the Americans is apparent. Then, on the other side, an ancient culture, in which the only thing American that can adapt is the surfer, who has an aesthetic not totally alienated from the natural world.

    But this just scratches the surface. What a marvelous ocnversation it would be in some cafe, and two or three essays afterward!

  2. The glorification of war continnues....