Frankenstein S Monster Revisited Essay, Research Paper
Frankenstein s Monster Revisited, Or: No, Axel Rose wasn t the first to say Charlie don t surf.
In Francis Ford Coppola s classic film Apocalypse Now, United States Army Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) is sent on a mission that officially does not exist, to terminate a man who shouldn t exist: Colonel Walter Kurtz (Marlon Brando). According to General Corman, who orders the mission, Kurtz has lost his mind and is operating, Totally beyond the pale of any acceptable human conduct. The Army charges Colonel Walter Kurtz with murder for killing three South Vietnamese citizens who were collaborating with the Communist Vietcong. In fact, the Army wants Kurtz dead because he has gone mad and has established his own private army in Cambodia. With the aid of hard-core surfer Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore (Robert Duvall), Capt. Willard begins his journey up the Nung River on a Navy patrol boat crewed by some rather odd fellows including Chef, Clean, and a famous Californian surfer named Lance. The rest of the film follows Capt. Willard and crew as they travel the Nung River up to Cambodia where Willard has his fateful meeting with Col. Kurtz.
One theme that permeates Apocalypse Now is the characters pursuit of self-interest. In fact, the main source of conflict in the film is a product of conflicting self-interests. The United States Army, symbolized by General Corman, tries to save face by executing Col. Kurtz, who is an embarrassing example of failure in the Army s vaunted chain of command. Kurtz simply wants to fight the Vietnam War his way, without any authority directing him.
Captain Willard is summoned from his Saigon hotel room to meet General Corman. Willard arrives at the General s trailer, where a tape of Col. Kurt s voice is played: We must kill them. We must incinerate them. Pig after pig, cow after cow, village after village, army after army. And they call me an assassin. What do you call it when the assassins accuse the assassin? Visibly shaken, Willard looks to the General who explains, Every man has a breaking point. You and I have. Walt Kurtz has reached his and obviously he has gone insane.
Apocalypse Now is a parable about getting things done your way, either outside or inside the boundaries set by the system you are working within. Francis Ford Coppola, who directed the film, directed it his way- taking over a year to shoot the film and another nine months for editing. Colonel Kurtz fights the Vietnam War his way, with a private army of villagers who worship him as a god. Lt. Col. Kilgore fights for the spoils of war, one spoil being surfing at any Vietnamese beach he captures.
Upon learning that Lance, the famous surfer from Malibu, is on Willard s boat, Lt. Col. Kilgore speaks with some underlings about where the best places to catch a wave are. On the basis of a fantastic surfing report, Kilgore decides his helicopters are going to assault a fortified beach held by the Vietcong. A junior officer warns Kilgore that the area is heavily fortified, and is indeed, Charlie s beach. Kilgore angrily yells, Charlie don t surf! providing the audience with valuable insight to his motivation.
As Captain Willard and the crew begin to go upriver, we witness the men indulging in their respective vices. Captain Willard takes to refilling his canteen with whiskey. In one scene, Chef, Clean, and Lance smoke a joint. Later that evening Chef, who has post-marijuana munchies, takes Willard with him into the jungle to pick mangoes, where the two are attacked by a tiger. Chef and Willard high tail it out of the jungle, firing their M-16s while running back to the patrol boat. Once safely aboard, Chef flips out and begins yelling that he is never getting out of the boat again. In a voice-over, Captain Willard remarks, Never get out of the boat. Absolutely god damn right. Kurtz got off the boat. He split from the whole fuckin program.
Kurtz may have, split from the program, as Capt. Willard aptly states, but why did he do so? This question leads us to one of the main issues in the film: the never-ending battle between good and evil. Kurtz represents good turned evil, and the US Army represents evil. Coppola makes this distinction difficult to see however, because Kurtz is portrayed as a raving lunatic, who surrounds his jungle compound with severed heads. The US Army portrays itself as the cliched knight in shining armor, on a mission to rid the world of a man who according to Gen. Corman is operating, Totally beyond the pale of any acceptable human conduct. The irony present in the Army s condemnation of Kurtz is delicious. However, Kurtz has gone insane and is acting beyond the pale of any acceptable human conduct.
So, who is the good guy, and who is the bad guy? Coppola clearly intended Kurtz to be the good guy. As Capt. Willard proceeds up the Nung River, Coppola gives the audience background information on Kurtz through intelligence reports read by Willard. We learn that Kurtz was a rising star within the Army. Willard states, He was being groomed for one of the top positions in the corporation. However, Kurtz joined the Special Forces, giving up all chances for promotion, went to Vietnam, and went mad. The Army created Frankenstein s monster then sends Willard to clean up after them. Clearly the Army represents evil, while Kurtz is the unfortunate by-product of the Army s machinations. Kurtz is the typical good-guy turned evil.
An interesting relationship between Kurtz and the Army is present in the film. One evil turns an innocent to evil. The parent evil and its progeny are in conflict after the parent evil feels its prot g has begun overstepping its bounds. The parent evil, feeling threatened by its child desires to kill the child to ensure the continued survival of the parent. Kurtz s feelings about his parent s intentions are revealed when Willard meets Kurtz near the end of the film:
Colonel Kurtz: Are you an assassin Willard?
Captain Willard: I’m a soldier sir.
Colonel Kurtz: You’re neither. You’re an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks, to collect a bill.
Despite the fog of madness which clouds Kurtz s brain, Kurtz is able to succinctly communicate the absurdity of being condemned by hypocrites. The bill being collected is Kurtz s life, and the grocery clerks are the United States Army.
The message Coppola is trying to send in this film is relatively simple; evil exists in many shapes, sizes, and forms, yet it is not always easy to discover. Some evils are entrenched in bureaucracies, others hidden deep within humid jungles. Copploa was also trying to say that the evil which is a part of human nature lurks deep within everyone s soul, and only under the right set of circumstances does that evil come out and take control of one s soul.