The Opening Sequence of Apocalypse Now

Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979) still reigns as one of the greatest films of the twentieth century and certainly as one of the most inspired films about America’s engagement in the Vietnam War. Yet, even though Coppola’s film is anchored in the Vietnam War, it seems to be much less about the Vietnam War (in terms of strategies, battles, and outcomes) and more about how war affects the psyche and the soul of people fighting in war ~ in this war. One of the film’s many hallmarks is its opening sequence, which does not include the film’s title or film credits (these appear at the end of the nearly three-hour film). Moreover, the opening sequence is nearly eight minutes long, which is quite a bit longer than standard opening sequences. And this sequence plays out in the context of The Doors’ song, “The End.” Please think about this opening sequence in terms of content and mood. What sort of mood is created by the sequence? What elements (lighting, setting, depiction of character, etc.) go into creating this mood? How do sound effects and the title track (“The End”) contribute to creating this mood? Indeed, how important is music to creating this mood? How does lighting (daylight, darkness, shadows, light) shape the mood of the opening sequence? Would the same effect have been achieved if the title track had not been included? What does the audience learn about Captain Willard in this sequence? We will watch this opening in class, but the clip is also included in this post.


About Linda Kristine Neiberg

Ph.D. The Graduate Center, CUNY (English literature) M.Phil. The Graduate Center, CUNY (English literature) B.A. Simmons College, Boston, MA (English literature) Specialties: English Renaissance drama and culture; English Reformation; gender, body, and death studies; medieval literature; composition
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