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Apocalypse Now in the context of American popular culture and counterculture

This essay tackles the understanding of the film Apocalypse Now in the context of its own culture and time, not only the time in which it was created (New Hollywood, end of 70s) but also the time (1969/1970) the iconographic indicators of which have been consciously and meaningfully presented in the film so as to provide a countercultural image of America and the Vietnam War. The author thus explores the references to American popular and mass culture (rock music, surfing, metafilmic quotations of some scenes and selection of actors, use of drugs and elements of explicit sexuality: the Playboy magazine, Henry Millers’s Sexus, etc.) in the context of the countercultural events of the time and interprets the film as the first American countercultural war film. Analyzing metafilmic and functional meanings of rock’n’roll songs in the film (The End, Satisfaction, Suzie Q), the author explains the techniques Coppola used as  director, co-screenwriter and co-producer to present the idea of American conflict in Vietnam (with the thesis of American soldier’s alienation through the introduction and consummation of his own culture and the absurdity of that approach to warfare) which is in harmony with the idea formed in the context of countercultural movements. Coppola uses the mythic structure of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (interpreted in the text by way of a reference to Joseph Campbell’s concept of the monomyth) as a foundation to introduce a series of surrealist and symbolic war scenes that, as the author indicates, stem from the testimonies and war reports marked with a countercultural perspective, such as those of Michael Herr, the author of the book Dispatches. Michael Herr contributed to the film perspective not only because his book influenced the director but also by way of narrative authorship, contextualising and articulating presented events and themes. Under the eternal philosophical layer, Apocalypse Now is also about Coppola’s revisionist contemplation of both the film and the Vietnam War.

Juraj Bubalo

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