Shoot 'Em All!

Apocalypse Now Redux extends an epic allegory of American megalomania into the 21st Century

Twenty-two years later at the same festival, the filmmakers were asked whether there was any connection between "postcolonial critiques" of Heart of Darkness and the French plantation scene in Redux. Walter Murch replied, explaining that the French were defending their homes (an admiring characterization), while the Americans were "virtual" colonialists, playing "this very complicated chess game with the Soviet Union." Maybe I was out getting popcorn when the Soviets invaded and bombed South Vietnam. In fact, Apocalypse is not postcolonial for the simple reason that it isn't postimperial.

It's true that the Vietnamese are conspicuously absent from all our "Vietnams." But in a way, so are the Americans. The men who planned the war weren't ivory hunters or madmen, but bureaucrats--an admittedly uncinematic breed. Carrying out their plans were technicians, who went about the dull job of dropping more ordnance on Southeast Asia than we expended during all of World War II. America didn't get lost in the jungle: We bombed the jungle. In Apocalypse Now, this crime is reduced to Conrad's "postscriptum," a few words scrawled across a typewritten page in Kurtz's journal: "I hated my enemies even before they held me captive, because hate sustained me in my devotion to their complete destruction."

No, wait--that was Sen. John McCain in Kerrey's War. My mistake. Sorry about that.

Good morning, "Vietnam": Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now
Good morning, "Vietnam": Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now


Last month, in the lesser Vietnam, the communist government closed down the Apocalypse Now bar, which had long been an open market for the oldest profession--and the fastest-growing occupation. Ho Chi Minh's inheritors, who swept in after we demolished the National Liberation Front, have been losing their battle against the depredations that accompany "market reform." The communal village systems destroyed by the French and replaced by the rebels have evaporated. The country lurches toward Western fantasies of itself.

Someday we'll make a "Vietnam" about this Vietnam. Or about the allies we ground under--the Hmong and the Montagnards, who in Apocalypse Now are rendered as gentle savages without their God, already forgotten as they silently make way for Willard to lead Lance back home.

Yes, someday we'll make a "Vietnam" about Vietnam. But at the moment, they still can't get enough "America" in America.

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