Filmsite Movie 

Review 100 Greatest 

Apocalypse Now (1979)
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Plot Synopsis (continued)

They arrive at an isolated US base supply depot at Hau Phat in a surreal nighttime scene - the warehouse-arena is glittering and brilliantly-lit by half-circles of floodlights. They collect diesel fuel, supplies, and "Panama Red" smoke for Chef at a depot. [Playboy centerfolds are posted on the wall.] Because they have no destination - their "destination is classified" (according to Willard), the Sergeant in charge is testy, but then when confronted offers the crew press-box seats "for the show," and also presents Willard with a bottle of contraband bourbon.

In a memorable, morale-boosting, staged USO show, three beautiful but untalented Playboy Bunnies are airlifted in via helicopter to entertain the horny, sex-starved troops (conducting "Operation Brute Force") at the base. Tall, golden, phallic-shaped towers stand behind the audience. The show is introduced by emcee/manager Bill Graham (Himself):

  • Miss August Playmate Sandra Beatty (Linda Carpenter)
  • Miss May Playmate Terri Teray (Colleen Camp)
  • Playmate of the Year Carrie Foster (Cyndi Wood, credited as Cynthia Wood)

The young women are the worst example of American values exported to a strange, alien world. The women perform USO-style, with taunting, tantalizing, blatantly-seductive bump and grind dancing (to the tune of "Suzie Q" performed by Flash Cadillac, before the song was popularized by Creedence Clearwater Revival). The show features the three women skimpily dressed as a cavalry officer, a white double-holstered cowboy and an Indian squaw - re-enacting the defeat of the natives in the West [a parallel image to the defeat of the US troops in Vietnam]. All of the scantily-clad, shimmying women ostentatiously caress and fire their guns. Behind chain-link fence, some of the Vietnamese people watch in amazement and puzzlement. The audience becomes an aroused, frenzied, uncontrollable mob that charges the stage as the show degenerates. MP's fight off the soldiers during the quick evacuation of the women by the USO crew. As the female performers climb back into a helicopter to whisk them away, their manager shrugs his shoulders to the audience, and displays a Victory (V-sign) in the air. [His departure is an impersonation of Vietnam War-era President Nixon's last farewell, before he boarded a helicopter. Bill Graham's death occurred years later in a helicopter crash.] One or two men hang onto the skids of the copter, and then fall off, as it slowly ascends.

In the emptied stands, as Willard watches the end of the debacle from afar, he notes as he drinks from his bottle:

Charlie didn't get much USO. He was dug in too deep or moving too fast. His idea of great R and R was cold rice and a little rat meat. He had only two ways home: death or victory.

[Apocalypse Now Redux:

Willard continues to muse as the stage is cleaned up the following morning after the USO concert and they pull away in their patrol boat. He thinks cynically about the direction of the war and its leaders: "No one but Kurtz put a weed up Command's ass. The war was being run by a bunch of four-star clowns who were gonna end up giving the whole circus away."

An earlier section of the original film, at the point where the crew hears the B-52 strike, is transposed to this location. The PBR crew entertain themselves to Armed Forces Radio playing the Rolling Stones' 60's hit: "I Can't Get No Satisfaction." The crew dances to the radio and gets stoned - with a strange sense of normalcy. Lance even water-skies behind the boat - the rough wake of the boat disrupts peasants in a simple boat, an apt metaphor for the intrusion of Americans into a foreign country. Willard, in voice-over, reads more of the dossier - a quote from Kurtz' own writing:

Commitment and Counter-Insurgency, by Col. Walter E. Kurtz. As long as our officers and troups (sic) perform tours of duty limited to one year, they will remain dilletantes in war and tourists in Vietnam. As long as cold beer, hot food, rock and roll and all the other amenities remain the expected norm, our conduct of the war will gain only impotence. (In the document, but not read aloud - The wholesale and indiscriminate use of firepower will only increase the effectiveness of the enemy and strengthen their resolve to prove the superiority of an agrarian culture against the world's greatest technocracy...The central tragedy of our effort in this conflict has been the confusion of a sophisticated technology with human commitment. Our bombs may in time destroy the geography, but they will never win the war...)...We need fewer men, and better; if they were committed, this war could be won with a fourth of our present force...]

Other patrol boats engage them in mock warfare, mooning, and a game of "chicken." As they continue on, Willard reviews more of the dossier's classified materials, learning how Kurtz investigated and quickly and efficiently murdered four Vietnamese double-agents, and then retreated into Cambodia when pressured by the American army:

Late Summer, 1968. Kurtz's patrols in the highlands coming under frequent ambush. The camp started falling apart. November: Kurtz orders the assassination of three Vietnamese men and one woman. Two of the men were Colonels in the South Vietnamese army. Enemy activity in his old sector dropped off to nothing. Guess he must have hit the right four people. The Army tried one last time to bring him back into the fold. And if he pulled over, it all would have been forgotten. But he kept going, and he kept winning it his way, and they called me in. They lost him. He was gone. Nothing but rumors and rambling intelligence, mostly from captured VC. The VC knew his name by now, and they were scared of him. He and his men were playing hit and run all the way into Cambodia....

(Reading from a typed letter written by Kurtz to his son)
Dear Son: I'm afraid that both you and your mother will have been worried of not hearing from me in the past weeks, but my situation here has become a difficult one. I have been officially accused of murder by the Army. The alleged victims were four Vietnamese double-agents. We spent months uncovering them and accumulating evidence. When absolute proof was completed, we acted - we acted like soldiers. The charges are unjustified. They are in fact, and in the circumstances of this conflict, quite completely insane. In a war, there are many moments for compassion and tender action. There are many moments for ruthless action - what is often called ruthless, what may in many circumstances be only clarity - seeing clearly what there is to be done and doing it - directly, quickly, awake, looking at it. I would trust you to tell your mother what you choose about this letter. As for the charges against me, I am unconcerned. I am beyond their timid, lying morality and so I am beyond caring. You have all my faith. Your loving father

[Apocalypse Now Redux: The occupants of the out-of-fuel and downed Playboy helicopter are found stranded and marooned in a remote base camp. They have sought refuge during a fierce and torrential rainstorm in an unorganized, muddy Medevac Center that lacks a CO (dead from stepping on a land-mine months earlier). Willard barters with the girls' manager (Bill Graham) in one of the hastily-assembled tents [in a 'frontier town' reminiscent of the one in McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)]. He exchanges some of the boat's reserve fuel for several of his randy crew members to have sex with the female entertainers. He tells the disbelieving group:

I just made a deal with the people from Hua Phat. I negotiated two barrels of fuel for a couple of hours with the Bunnies.

Chief Phillips objects and declines the offer, preferring to remain with the boat:

Chief: (Are) you givin' away our fuel for a Playmate of the Month?
Willard: Nope. Playmate of the Year, Chief.

The two others find Bunnies as partners. In cross-cut scenes, Chef (a collector of Playboy magazines) is entertained by ex-Busch Gardens bird-trainer Miss May in the cockpit of the Playboy helicopter, while Lance socializes with the beautiful blonde Playmate of the Year in one of the tents. (When Lance removes his Playmate's boots, her groans simulate an orgasm after she asks: "Is it coming?") In a long monologue, the blonde describes her lonely fate as a celebrated centerfold to Lance, as he silently opens her blouse, bares her breasts, lays her down, applies stripes of green to her cheeks, and gently strokes her face. Her feelings emphasize her exploited, prostituted life, similar to the ones of the recruits sent to the battlefield:

Being Playmate of the Year is the loneliest experience I can imagine. It's like - you try to express your feelings to someone, and show them your heart...and there's this glass wall between you. This invisible glass. And they can see your mouth moving...But they can't hear what you're saying...'Cause you can never really make them hear what you're tryin' to say...That's why I tried so desperately to show somebody that I had some talent...They make you do things that you don't wanna do, like, like, this picture here. (She opens up a photo scrapbook and points to one of the pictures.) I started feeling repulsed with myself...Maybe I'm unfit to have a relationship with a beautiful, innocent boy... (Lance applies face paint to himself.) I wish, I wish I could find just one person that could share my point of view. (She jumps up, stumbles across the muddy room, and accidentally upturns a metal coffin holding a soldier's naked corpse. Mortified, she cowers in a corner while being comforted.) Lance, that was somebody's son. Lance, there were things that they made me do that I didn't wanna do. They said, "Pull the ribbons between your legs." And I didn't wanna do it. But they said that was what was expected of me, that that's what people wanted to see. (She is startled to see Clean waiting outside to be next and peering in the window.)

Meanwhile, Chef has donned his lovely, barely-clad calendar girl with a dark black wig and compelled her to pose like her centerfold (Miss December) portrait. He confesses: "You know, I can't believe it. Me, J. Hicks. I mean, I can't believe I'm really here...Just think, if it hadn't been for the Vietnam War, I never would have met you, Miss December." She quickly corrects him for the second time: "Miss May." Although a bird aborts the start of their love-making, his bird-loving companion is ecstatic over their first kiss ("You kiss just like a bird...Take me like a bird. Fly, baby. Cock it to me"). To turn her on even further and drive her crazy, Chef flaps his arms like an eagle.]

After their encounter with the entertainers, the paranoid and uneasy crew frequently begins to argue. Lance, in particular, has become primitive in his actions and appearance - wearing full green/black facial camouflage makeup ("So they can't see ya, they're everywhere") - (and later, a loincloth, and a spear.) All are anxious to carry out their mission to drop Willard at his destination and quickly retreat.

In a revolting and horrible scene, Chief insists on stopping an innocent-looking, lone sampan with Vietnamese civilians for a routine search, despite Willard's protests. Weary and jittery - and armed to shoot, the crew nervously suspects that the sampan is smuggling supplies and other VC contraband. Chef boards the vessel to search it, shouting that there is nothing suspicious, while Lance and Clean look on with their weapons ready. But when a young girl makes a quick move toward a yellow can that is to be inspected, Clean (and later Lance) opens fire. Almost the entire boatload of civilians on board is slaughtered in a tremendous barrage of bullets as the murderers scream: "Motherf---ers!" It turns out there are no weapons - in the can is a puppy. Chief wants to take the only survivor - the badly wounded, moaning young girl - to "some friendlies" for treatment. Willard -the ultimate assassin - rebukes him, and then shoots her with a single bullet through the heart, rather than diverting the boat to get medical help from an ARVN. The soldiers scream, cry, and yell obscenities at each other - in shock and guilt. Willard orders the boat and its hostile crew to continue its fateful journey: "I told you not to stop. Now let's go." Lance keeps the little, golden-haired puppy for himself.

The killing changes Willard and the crew's perception of him, as he expresses increasing empathy for Kurtz:

It was the way we had over here of living with ourselves. We'd cut 'em in half with a machine gun and give 'em a bandaid. It was a lie - and the more I saw of 'em, the more I hated lies. Those boys were never gonna 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.

In another hallucinatory sequence at the last army outpost before they venture into Cambodian waters (to Kurtz), the patrol boat cruises through a bizarre night battle (of rocket and mortar fire) for the besieged, psychedically-lit, American-held Do Lung bridge. During the heavy Vietcong artillery bombardment, commanding officers are not visible, and soldiers jump in the water with suitcases begging to be taken home. Willard is given a packet containing mail and an updated classified report and told: "You're in the asshole of the world, Captain." He leaves the boat with acid-head Lance (tripping on acid, and with the puppy inside his jacket) to survey the situation and get some information from a commanding officer. [Lance's internal hallucinations are vividly projected onto his environment.] They plan to be picked up on the other side of the embattled bridge.

Without COs anywhere, they discover a terrified black GI shooting recklessly into the night sky at an unseen enemy: "They're gooks out there by the wire but I think I killed 'em all." The half-crazed man asks if Willard is the CO: "Ain't you?" The confused soldiers listen to Jimi Hendrix cassette music. A "slope" who is wounded and hanging on the wire, taunts them: "F--k you, GI...I kill you, GI." After the black GI fires his weapon in the enemy's direction, the taunts are silenced. Two men are blown off the bridge as Willard searches unsuccessfully for a commanding officer, but he has found some ammo. The Chief describes the real reason for the bridge: "We build it every night. Charlie blows it right back up again. Just so the generals can say the road's open. Think about it." With everyone back on board, the boat passes under the temporary bridge, entering Cambodia for the final part of the hellish trip upriver.

In the new information he has received, Willard learns of a recent development in his mission: "Months ago, a man was ordered on a mission which was identical to yours. We have reason to believe that he is now operating with Colonel Kurtz. Saigon was carrying him MIA for his family's sake, but they assumed he was dead. Then they intercepted a letter he tried to send to his wife. Captain Richard Colby (Scott Glenn). He was with Kurtz." The other crew read the mail and news from home, while Lance is inspired to yell that the Vietnam War experience is similar to an unreal theme park:

Disneyland. F--k, man, this is better than Disneyland.

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