Three days ago Paul Schrader, having just caught a theatrical showing of Apocalypse Now: Final Cut, said it’s basically a film at war with itself by trying to be two things at once.
“It’s like vibrating under the spell of juiced-up, pro-war amphetamines while, in the distance, hearing a dour somewhat confused country preacher declaiming war’s evils,” Schrader wrote on Facebook.
A filmmaker friend interpreted this to mean (although Schrader didn’t seem to actually be saying this) that there can be no such thing as an actual “antiwar film” because if your battle footage is depicted with any realism or honesty, it’s impossible not to convey the exhilaration of surviving an armed conflict (alluded to by that famous Winston Churchill quote about “nothing in life [being] so exhilarating as to be shot at without result”), and that this tends to neutralize any intended antiwar import.
Put more simply, if your war film seems to echo or confirm Churchill’s recollection, which is probably all but impossible, you can’t really make an “antiwar film.”
HE to filmmaker friend: “I don’t agree. The exhilaration of combat aspect has been understood since the first accounts of the military campaigns of Alexander The Great (Diodorus Siculus, Quintus Curtius Rufus), and certainly since Plutarch wrote about the adventures of Julis Caesar.
“But these and other accounts through the centuries (including Stanley Kubrick‘s Paths of Glory) have never negated the fact that the nature of war is to slaughter and destroy — to deliver horror and pain and misery en masse…to inflict cruelty without mercy, at least as far as the enemy is concerned. How can any honest depiction of this not be antiwar-ish?”
Schrader also said something that’s very clear and true about Apocalypse Now, which is that “the schizophrenic nature of the film goes back to the script itself. John Milius‘s original script was all bravado and gung ho crazy. Francis has the opposite sensibility. The Ride of the Valkyries, the surfers, the bunnies — that’s Milius. The Michael Herr narration, the plantation exposition, the meditations on evil — that’s Coppola.”