A review of “Apocalypse Now.”

Seldom do you, and hundreds of others in an audience, leave a film quietly, soundlessly. Seldom do you sit through a two-and-a-half hour film—about an hour longer than the average movie these days—in total silence. Seldom are you soothed, shattered, sucked into the screen from the quiet parting of the curtains to their equally quiet closing. And even then you stare screenward, wondering, Has it released me? Will it ever?

Francis Coppola wanted to make a film about Vietnam. He failed, and did much more. He transcended that controversial, ugly war to bare the heart of man. When Coppola claimed that his film was about morality, Hollywood scoffed. We shouldn’t. For that is what Apocalypse Now (a United Artists release) considers.

From the title we know what to expect. The word has entered our vocabulary by way of the Bible; all that it symbolizes in the book of Revelation is in its meaning here. It is the end—for American morality as Coppola has known it, for the will to righteousness, and to the myth of man’s growing goodness and humanitarian tendencies. It is the end for Willard, Kurtz, and those caught in this destruction, as well as for those real people for whom those characters stand. This film enters the heart of darkness: there the action occurs; there it stays.

The plot is relatively simple. Captain Benjamin Willard, played by the powerful Martin Sheen, asks for a new mission. He gets it. “For my sins,” he says, “they give me a new mission, and I would never want another one.” He must find Colonel Kurtz (who is brilliantly played by Marlon Brando), a renegade army officer. Kurtz is entrenched in the hills of Cambodia, at the time still off limits to the U.S. Willard must “terminate” the colonel’s ...

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