The human race is believed to be at the pinacle of developement. We have reahed the top of the mountain of success and evolution; we have surely surpassed the wild animal. We have evolved past the primal use of insticts to the utilization of reason and intelect. There are times in the course of a human’s life however, in war for instance, where all reason and intelect is compromised and men revert back to instinct, back to animal. War presents a man with more hardship, physical and emotional stress, than any human being should ever have to endure.
It is in times of stress, fear, and horror that men will adopt the insticts that have not been forgotten only stored in the receses of the brain. I suggest the 4 “F’s” of human instict: Food, Fornication, Fight, Fun. It is these four simple actions that show up throughout the majority of Copolas Apocolypse Now, and these instincts that dominate the actions of the soldiers. Have you ever laughed in the face of danger, snickered at somones missfortune, or go to a party when you’re feeling down? This is a psycological block to bar you against emotional discomort, we do it all the time.
It may not be totaly healthy but it certainly won’t make us go crazy. In war time on the other hand, when the four F’s are in full swing is another story. There are plenty of examples in Apocalypse Now. Capt. KillGore is a fine example, feeding his soldiers steaks and beer the night before a killing rampage, then actually surfing during the raid. This is crazy you might say, but the men have fun, and that keeps them from breaking down. Part of being able to survive a war is loss of emotion. Once you can act on instict you can kill without looking back, without remorse.
Killgore does express some compasion though. There is a scene where some of his soldiers would not give a woulded vietnamese soldier water from their canteens. Killgore gives the man water. Of course when he hears that the waves at a the next raid sight are a beutiful with six foot peaks he completely forgets about the man dying at his feet. Killgore realy plays into the Food and Fun insticts. Killgore’s men can be seen playing football in the background during the first raid too. And when he meets Lance Johnson, the surfer from the patrol boat, he is just tickled pink.
You’d think he would be worried about saving his hide but not good old killgore. Killgore’s men kill, kill for fun, kill to have fun, but just kill as much as possible, with no good cause. Killgore is so conditioned to the harsh environment that he isn’t even phased by the bomb blasts and actualy seems to ejoy war, even the smell of nepalm, but however much he enjoys the war and makes it fun for his men, the hardship will burn at them like nepalm to the point where no amount of recovery could wash the feeling away.
“I love the smell of nepalm in the morning … smells like victory,” said Killgore, but is it the victory of the US over Vietnam or a tough exterior over soft emotions. Captain Willard said “… if this is the way Killgore fights the war I wander what the have against Kurtz, it wasn’t just insanity and murder there was enough of that to go around. ” Sex has often been responded to as animalistic, inhuman, savage, bu it is afterall part of human nature and a deepseated imprint in or instict: a spinal reflex. This is evident in the way that the men react to the Playboy bunnies in the USO show. Their first response was to want the women, and then fight for them.
It seems obvious that they would have such a response, being without any female contact for so long. Some call this savage, but actualy it is just natural. Sometimes our quickest, clearest, most pure actions are done without thought. They seem to happen without a single seconds contemplation. Have you ever marveled at the speed with which you jerk your hand back from a hot stove. Do you ever wonder how you can run so fast when a rabid dog is chasing you? Or have you heard the stories of a person trapped under a car suddenly possesing the strength to lift it off himself?
These are instinctual brainstem and spinal coloumn reflexes, adrenaline too, but intict nonetheless, requireing no thought, no emotion. During times of war when people are being blown to bits left and right, and you are whitnessing bloody murders daily, emotion is not at a premium. To be able to survive this storm of gore you must shut down your emotion, forget about how and why this all is happening and just act, just fight to stay alive. You must become animal. Kurtz knew this. He knew that the perfect soldier was one without emotion, one that would kill and not look back.
In The Heart of Darkness and in the movie Apocalyps Now, Kurtz speakes of the incident of the inoculation of the children, where members of the tribe hacked off every childs arm that had been innoculated. Kurtz saw the power in that, the sheer will needed to do such a thing and he realized that this act is pure and withoust hesitation. Kurtz experesses that if he had a whole dividion of these men that there would be no stopping him. These are the perfect soldiers: ones that can kill, maime, and do it without emotion, withoust a second thought.
Human’s can not endure this torure for too long though, they will go crazy. The General in the begining of Apocalyps Now said “there is a conflict in every human heart between rational and irrational … every man has a breaking point. ” Willard is being sent up the river to “terminate” Colonel Kurtz’ command because he has been charged with murder. “Charging a man with murder in this place is like handing out speeding tickets at the Indie 500. ” Killgore kills and is not charged. The diference between Kurtz and Killgore, as far as Capt.
Willard can see, is that Kurtz is beyond the control of the army, he acting without orders and has gone mad. Is Killgore any less mad? Willard’s jeourney is actualy very symbolic. It’s the jeorney from sanity to insanity, from rational to irrational. The boat itself is symbolic too. It sybolizes the system, sanity and reason. “Never get off the boat – absolutely God-damn right. Unless you plan to go all the way. Kurtz go off the boat; he split from the whole fucking program. ” Willard contemplated this after a close encounter with a tiger in the jungle, while hunting for mangos off the boat.
The whole trip up the river is a long conditioning period for Willard. The more he learns about Kurtz the less he wants to kill him. Willard deelopes an emotional tie to him. He sees him as a man, and thus can not kill him. Each incident along the river brings Willard closer to stepping off the boat though, to killing Kurtz. Killing person after person while opperating under the automatic control of instinct may guard you from emotional breakdown at the time, but will eventualy make you go crazy; the killing will catch up with you. After the vietnam war many soldiers just couldn’t wake up.
They couldn’t reagain control of their minds without an emotional breakdown,they went crazy. The important part about Willard killing Kurtz is that he wasn’t acting on instinct. He was concious. He saw the inner struggle within Kurtz and it became a mercey kill. Kurtz almost expected to be killed by Willard. He wanted his madness to end. “In a war there are many moments for tender action and compassion. There are many moments for ruthless action, what is often called ruthless, but in many surcumstances be clarity – seeing clearly what there is to be done and doing it – directly, quickly, awake, looking at it.
Willard was awake. Willard is the irony of the movie. While the whole lot of them are going crazy, killing, and acting on complete autopilot, Willard is awake. He is aware. It is true that when presented with extreme hardship most men will shut down and revert back to animal instinct, but there are a few among us who can look danger in the face and “… [see] clearly what there is to be done and [do] it – directly, quickly, awake, looking at it. ” Willard is the maintains human reason, he utilizes his intelect. Willard overcomes the animal instinct.