October 1, 2012
Apocalypse Now Redux: Symbolically Mythology
Nothing affixes attention, especially in literature and cinematic entertainment, more readily than a hero. Heroes and their journeys are the central focuses in many famous stories, either ancient or modern. The idea of the journey of a hero and their triumph is referred to as a monomyth, and there are a few approaches to determining if a story is or is not a monomyth. In his book Mythology: The Voyage of a Hero, David Adams Leeming proposes a method that involves eight steps or phases that coincide with the life and journey of the hero. Many of our culture’s most revered and acclaimed movies fit the description of a monomyth, including Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now Redux. The entire movie takes place during the Vietnam War and depicts the hero, Army Special Operations Captain Willard, on his quest up a river to kill a psychotic Army officer, Colonel Kurtz. Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now Redux coincides with David Adams Leeming’s method of a monomyth because Captain Willard symbolically undergoes every aspect of Leeming’s eight part process.
Leeming’s system first starts off with the birth of the hero, and the first scene of the movie corresponds to this point perfectly. The scene begins with Captain Willard in a hotel drinking heavily, and he eventually makes a very gloomy aside. In his aside, Willard states that he is back in Vietnam and that when he is back in America he can’t stand the fact that he is not in Vietnam. Willard notions to the fact that now that he is back he feels like he has a purpose, and it becomes apparent to the audience that the war has consumed Willard’s life. Near the end of the hotel scene, two NCOs find Willard in an extremely drunken state and wash him in the shower in order to make him presentable enough to receive his next mission. While Willard is not literally being born, the act of the NCO’s washing him and making him new so that he can go back to performing secret missions, in a sense his life, is symbolic of birth or in some ways rebirth.
Now that the hero has been born, the next phase in Leeming’s method is that the hero is made aware of greater forces, usually those which the hero will eventually face. The segment in the movie that relates to this point occurs immediately after the hotel scene, when Captain Willard is briefed about his mission by a few higher ranking military officers. The officers inform Willard that his mission is to kill a rogue and mentally unstable special operations officer, Colonel Kurtz. Colonel Kurtz was once a highly decorated and respected officer, but the briefing officers inform Willard that Kurtz is now acting on his own accord killing at will with an army of people following him who worship him like a god. By the end of the briefing, Willard is made aware of the greater force that he must face.
After the hero is made aware of greater forces, Leeming notes that the hero withdrawals for a period of time to prepare to face the greater force. A little while after the briefing, Captain Willard boards a boat and orders the crew to take him up river. Willard takes time to reflect, in the form of another internal aside, upon his mission in the time before he and the crew run in to anything on the river. Willard shows his concern for the rather novice and oblivious boat crew. He also wonders about what exactly he will encounter on the river, what he will find out about Colonel Kurtz when he finds him, and what Willard will ultimately find out about himself.
Following the hero’s preparation to endure their quest, the next step is for the hero to embark on their journey. On this journey, a hero typically displays traits that affirm that he or she is in fact a hero. Likewise, Captain Willard exhibits several examples that affirm his heroic demeanor. An instance where Willard shows that he has concern for his subordinates, the boat...