Winner of the Academy Award for Best Cinematography in 1980, Apocalypse Now offers a unique window of perspective on warfare. Loosely based on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, the film follows Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) and his secret expedition to the thick of the Vietnam jungle, where he must assassinate Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando).
Kurtz is presumed to be insane, especially after going rogue and committing war crimes and murder. Though director Francis Ford Coppola claims that Apocalypse Now is not an anti-war film, it’s very interested in portraying the bizarre and almost comic double standards of war. Considered by many to be a masterpiece, and perhaps the greatest war movie of all time, today the film doesn’t seem quite so flawless. The portrayal of its Vietnamese characters is questionable, but a step ahead of its predecessors. It also set a precedent for future Vietnam War stories told from an American perspective in terms of humanization and sophistication. Apocalypse Now also features multiple Black characters with developed arcs and personalities.
The gloomy, brooding cinematography helps to tell a story that doesn’t glorify a false American victory and depicts the downward spiral of its characters as they disappear into the thick of the jungle.