We occasionally use this blog to showcase the work of Better Farm and betterArts residents. Today we'd like to present a special "Apocalypse Now Fire Sermon (love)" by our very own painter/musician/writer-in-residence Mike Brown (just a day late for Valentine's Day!):
Thursday, February 14, 2013
"Much stronger than fear was the desire to confront him"
Genesis 3:5: "For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil."
Revelation 1:17 And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:
Thought now would be a good time for an Apocalypse now fire sermon about targeted assassination, cops killing cops, sanity, insanity, morality, fire, hatred and love. My rambling manifesto. Rambling manifestos are so hot right now. Rambling manifestos.
Apocalypse Now Fire Sermon
I rewatched Apocalypse Now recently and was struck the mirrors upon mirrors in the madness and the murder of it. It seemed to me to be something of a revelation of the mind of The Man.
Now brothers and sisters when I say The Man I am not speaking of any actual man, for The Man is not an actual man and nor is he all men. He's the spirit of the worship of rivalry unto death and the madness and white nothing of rationality run amok. He hides everywhere and moves through everything, always seeking to draw boundaries for others while respecting none Himself. It's not quite that He can take any form, but He can appear to be anything because He has no honesty in His heart. He will appear in the least of creatures and the greatest among men. As the alpha in any given pack.
And in Apocalypse Now as the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, opening with the song The End by The Doors at the beginning.
Captain Willard, an assassin who will be sent by assassins to assassinate an assassin, doing a spirit-of-military-suicide Whiskey Siva death dance and then punching the mirror in his room and cutting his hand and bleeding. Out his window over Saigon the blades upon the helicopters spin spin spin.
Without a mission Willard feels empty. It feels like the end of the world to him. Everything around him is drowning in blood and fire and he's supposed to just chill in his hotel room and get some r and r. But he just watches the ceiling fan turn turn turn
Brothers and sisters I come to you as a man of peace and love but I must speak of dark things that I may warn you of them, and I feel that I must warn you here and now about one of The Man's most insidious and soulsucking drugs, the dread workahol, the mad gasoline that through us He pours onto, into himself that he may burn the more brightly and his victory engine cycle endlessly the more rapidly, from rpm to terrorhertz burn burn burn. That is why when people who seem drawn to conflict like moths to flame cry revolution I sometimes think to myself, there are already so many revolutions, endless cycling, that what we need is a drastic reduction of activity in general. We should be teaching laziness in schools can I get a witness.
You see, brothers and sisters, to a lazy person like myself, a day dreamer and layabout, a lover of sloth, and sloths, the terrors of workahol are obvious. O dread distilled spirit, just one of many of the weird intoxicants that The Man, in order to further His purpose, has had produced by his specialists (The Man lovesspecialists) in the Big Corporate-Military Psychometaphysical Mindfuck Industrial Complex. The same guys who discovered the fearful-symmetric ring structure of benzene, a key ingredient of the napalmused in the Viet Nam war, and sent it to Kekule by way of daydream injection, in a vision of Oroboross, the ancient tail swallowing snake in whom beginning and end are one. It's real.
So after Willard does this pretty insane death-dance in the film's opening and cuts his hand punching himself in the mirror, some military dudes show up to get him because even though he's clearly insane he's a damn good specialist in the field of covert targeted assassination. This will be the kind of mission, Willard says via voiceover, that when it's over, he'll never want another. The end of his life as a death specialist. I didn't find this kind of thing stressful when I had to do it, but I'm not like the others.
The men sent to retrieve him throw him in the shower to sober him up and clean him off (The Man loves cleaning) and he cries out with the pain of being born into the cycle again and then he's in a helicopter thwuppathwuppathwuppathwuppathwup and he's being taken to a meeting with the brass and their lameass whitebread piano lounge music on oil-dark disk of vinyl turn turn turn, that they fortunately turn off so that we can listen to Colonel Kurtz, the rogue assassin. Our nation is a rogue assassin btw.
The things that the brass say about Kurtz are the same things that he says about them. Accusation and counteraccusation mirror each other and bounce back and forth. You're insane no you're insane no you're a murderer no you're a murderer. This is how The Man generates energy, the back and forth of human rivalry is the pumping of a piston in a combustion chain. The Man sets men in the flesh against one another to power his Victory Engine and get them generating enough usable work and energy that He can achieve his one true and mad great goal of victory in His rivalry with the entire universe. The pride and the blindness of His essential Manthrocentrism. He catches a buzz off of the rivalries of the hivemind btw.
So Willard is taken by helicopter to report to Brass. We find out he was involved in intelligence and counterintelligence. One of the main themes of this movie is mindless violence vs. the violence of the mind, which I've written about here (Judge Holden is perhaps the my favorite ever artistic vision of The Man.) The difference between calm, reasoned killing as Willard practices it and the panicked chaos of the younger men on the boat; or the difference between the military technology of Vietnamese villagers and the United States military industrial complex. Since Vietnam the military tech asymmetry between the United States and everyone else has become much worse and will continue to do so until it destroys itself. War is suicide.
Brass: "Did you not work for the cia..."
Willard: "No sir."
Brass: "Did you assassinate a government tax collector, Quan Tre Province, 1968?"
Willard: "Sir I am unaware of any such operation."
[I don't really care about the specific names of the brass, they're savages. --mb]
So they eat some dead animals as they discuss Kurtz. We see a picture of Kurtz and we hear the brass talk about him. He's completely incomprehensible to them, they think he's more insane than they are. More murderous.
Kurtz was an overachiever. Damn near distillate of the spirit of workohol. Overachievers ruin the entire world while blaming the people who know how to chill the fuck out lol. It's insane.
So they listen to the alleged "insane rambling" of Kurtz, they have verified that it is his voice, transmitted from Cambodia, where the US was conducting covert ops that weren't being reported on or acknowledged much internally.
We dropped more tonnage of munitions on Cambodia than we did in all of World War Two (and blamed communism for Pol Pot) -- 2.75 million tons on Cambodia compared to 2 million tons in WW2. Asymmetries of war technology increase as power and wealth centralilze. To this day half a century later people in Cambodia still die from undetonated cluster bomb munitions that sit there in the ground. The Man fucking loves cluster bombs.
Anyway though Kurtz was really good at killing people, but part of this was because he loved the game and sought excellence in the field more than the approval of his superiors, he loved the game and the guys who thought they were his coaches began to seem as Hollow Men to him. Stuffed shirts. So Kurtz went solo and started doing some indie stuff and the other guys in the band got all bent. This displeased the men but it pleased The Man. The Man loves purists.
Kurtz' crime wasn't killing people per se, but doing so without topdown orders. See I'm an anarchist type and into grass roots ground up stuff and complexity theory and decentralized networks so I totally get where Kurtz is coming from here. Seems pretty cool that he disregarded the power structure of the US military. So they call him "insane." But military logic regarding sanity and insanity involves a lot of Catch 22 dynamics. So they have to assassinate the assassin. This is a case of the extrajudicial targeted assassination of an American btw.
They eat as they listen. Eating is the how we get life from the dead btw. (Or are they.)
Sacrificial ceremonies are meant to do the same thing. Create order and sustain and propagate life against death by way of ritual killing. War itself is an extended blood sacrifice to The Man though the priests in the temple will never admit whom it is that they serve, brothers and sisters, but is it not obvious, do we not have eyes to see?
"We must kill them. We must incinerate them. Pig after pig. Cow after cow. Village after village. Army after army. And they call me an assassin. What do you call it when the assassins accuse the assassin? They lie. They lie, and we have to be merciful, for those who lie. Those nabombs. I hate them. I do hate them." This piece of dialogue has a fascinating Judge Holden Caulfield quality to it. Note the themes of accusation and counter-accusation, assassin and counterassassin, the mirrors and echoes of the death-dance of the time of the assassins, which recurs as the engine's pistons pump pump pump a night-morning drunk on the smell of burning napalm. The Man loves a good fire purge.
So the brass, who are clearly insane and savages to boot, tell Willard, who is insane, that Kurtz, while one of the greatest soldiers of all time, "a humanitarian man," has "very obviously he has gone insane." They try and teach you to not color outside the lines in assassin school but every once a while the best of the best have to leave it all behind and go on a pilgrimage back to the mouth of the vortex and be pure. Go into the jungle and start a cult and do poetry and heads on sticks and stuff. We're all capable of such things because every heart has in it some measure of dark fire that can consume him in napalm and disaster if he lets The Man pour his devil snake gasoline on it. That is why we should all mellow out, in my opinion. I understand that it is not realism that I am preaching here, brothers and sisters.
"In this war things get... confused out there," one of the brass explains. Typical managerial type condescendingly explaining the worker who excels at his craft by virtue of experience in the field. To whom dead bodies are often mere data points. The Man fucking loves dead body data points. Clearly insane.
So having been assigned over lunch to assassinate Kurtz, Willard then sets off again on his mission up the river to "infiltrate [Kurtz'] team [cult] by whatever means available and terminate his command..." "...with extreme prejudice."
"This mission does not exist. Nor will it ever exist."
Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.
Then Willard is back in a chopper on the way to his next checkpoint and he reminisces over his career as an assassin. "How many people had I killed..." Then he's on the boat for the first time, though not in the river proper. We meet some of the other main characters now, the boat crew assigned to take Willard upriver to kill Kurtz. His four horsemen. "Mostly just kids. Rock n rollers with one foot in their grave."
The names and personalities of the characters mirror the themes of the movie. Chef the theme of cooking meat and the life and death nature of food. He is not made for the sharing of enemies he is made for the sharing of bread. In tense situations he panics. When in the jungle he speaks of how the fearful symmetry of army cooking is a profanation of the craft of feeding your fellow man when discussing how the army cooks steaks. "Lance, on the forward .50s, was a famous surfer from the beaches south of LA. One look at him and you wouldn't believe he ever fired a weapon in his whole life." Lance B Johnson is a boyish surfer dude. He often has a qaulity of seeming innocent even while moving through it all, though innocent as he may sometimes be, he is also a soldier and a product of the war and The Man moves through him too. No man is so pure that he cannot be a vessel of The Man. Lance B Johnson has the same initials and almost the same name as Lyndon B Johnson. (As commander in chief Johnson increased the number of US troops in Viet Nam from ~ 15,000 to ~ 550,000 between 1963 and 1968.) We meet him and he is bathing in reflected sunlight soaking up the fire from the sky like a plant. Goin with the flow.
Mr. Clean's name speaks to the purgation theme. When we meet him he is brushing his teeth. The purgation theme often has a sense of whitening. Mr. Clean is black but western colonial wars are acts of white supremacy. There's a tao to it that I wont't speak of here. He's from the ghetto, "some South Bronx shithole," and Willard thinks "the light and the space of Viet Nam really put the zap on his head," so we have another instance of one madman noting the madness of another within the greater context of the pervasive madness of war.
The boat commander, Chief Phillips, is less of a kid than the other three horsemen and though it is Willard's mission it "sure as shit was the chief's boat." The chief is a different kind of soldier than Willard or Kurtz. He does everything by the book and seeks to follow orders and does not seek to go outside of The Law and eat the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. The chief speaks of taking another man upriver previously on a similar mission. But "I heard he shot himself in the head." Suicide is an important recurring theme in the film as well and in the end of the movie homicide and suicide will fuse.
But dishonesty is part of the story is well. This suicide is not true. The chief got disinfo'd. Kurtz shot the other guy in the head with the third eye diamond and absorbed him into his cult. Only his ego and his allegiance to the US military have died. We won't meet the man, Captain Colby, until much later, though his character will be revealed by way of a message given to Willard upriver, much as Kurtz' character is revealed before we meet him by Willard's reading of the available information on him and the providence of commentary as the boat travels further and further upriver to the heart.
Reading about Kurtz on the way up the river Willard marvels over his pedigree. "I couldn't believe they wanted this man dead.... ....He had an impressive career. Almost too impressive. I mean perfect." Overachievement and puritanism can eat people's souls. The Victory Engine runs at far too hot a heat and too great a speed, both ever increasing, with concurrent proportionate entropy increase so that as more useful work seems to be produced so too is more disorder unleashed. Brothers and sisters we have got to lay off the smell of workohol-based napalm in the morning, even if we really like it. (Don't be dogs led by the nose and see yourself backwards in the warped mirror of manmind as gods.) Brothers and sisters when I preach to you of the lazy way I am not joking though I may indeed be wry.
"He was being groomed for one of the top spots in the corporation. General, chief of staff...." Willard's use of the word "corporation" here speaks of war as a business run by managers and technocrats. But Kurtz didn't want to be in an office, and be management, he wanted to be in the shit, the cloaca, and be labor. He is a specialist who loves his job but has become alienated from his duty as defined by his masters. Alienation of labor is a big part of the Viet Nam war. Are these men soldiers or are they errand boys sent by grocery clerks. Those nabombs. (Napalm abomb nabobs). Kurtz and Willard are both alienated specialists who know the horror and madness of wars being run by beancounters who listen to really uncool whitebread music.
In order to make it upriver they will need to be airlifted and escorted by an air mobile unit that they meet up with at a beach just after they have invaded and taken it. The air mobile unit is commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore (kill, gore), played by Robert Duvall, whose performance is off-the-charts epic. He projects alpha dog from every pore for every single second that he is on screen. In Kilgore we see something of how military love works. You love your own men and hate the enemy. Classic male pack-herd-hive behavior. Dennis Hopper will say later in a rant resonant with Hegelian (Hegel the German dialectician of manifest destiny) overtones that "Dialectic logic is there's only love and hate, you either love somebody or you hate them." That is the logic of love in this movie. A cruel demonic parody of the True Love that we must learn to see if we are to save ourselves from it before it is too late.
When Willard arrives on the beach he is immediately being directed by a film-maker. He's not the kind of guy who likes to be filmed. The filmmaker, played by the actual director of the bigger film, Francis Ford Coppola, nice little Hamletesque funhouse metariff, tells Willard to keep moving and act natural, and Willard sees this weird dishonesty as insane. Dishonesty and propaganda are essential to the public relations aspect of modern war as business run by technocrats. Is Coppola's war journalist or documentarian in this context more or less insane than Dennis Hopper's photojournalist at Kurtz' compound down the river? From the standpoint of the corporation he is sane because he works for them and helps them lie.
Also: tanks shooting flames. Helicopter. Huts on fire. Willard meets Kilgore and tells him what he needs as far as his mission but Kilgore is not into at first. They speak together as they walk among the bodies of slain enemies and Kilgore throws playing cards on them. These are like the calling cards of his airborn unit. Willard knows what they are. "Death cards. Lets Charlie know who did this." A signature to territorialize their ultraviolent victory. How many men in our warzones now, do you think, do that like dogs with piss instead of playing cards, and don't get their pictures taken, get caught and talked about in the news. How canine is the military mind. How much does The Man delight in the delight that his dogs show in serving Him.
An American tells surviving villagers through a megaphone: "We are here to help you," as a local translatres for the crowd who see, I'm assuming, as we do, the honest dishonesty of this outright false propaganda. The intervention rap. Still very popular.
Kilgore comes upon an enemy soldier dying of a gutshot and two South Vietnamese say he's thirsty but that "he can drink patty water." A lot of times you don't share your food with the enemy that you share with the people that you do share your food with. But Kilgore seems to feel something like compassion toward the dying man, or loyalty, and he gets pissed that they would deny him fresh water and he swears at them and pushes them away and barks about how "any man brave enough to lie there with his guts strapped on can drink from my canteen any day," and he goes to give the man water and appears to be doing so, but then a messenger arrives and tells Kilgore that Lance Johnson is on site and Kilgore, an avid surfer and fan of surfing, takes the canteen away and just tosses the water out as the dying man reaches after him in despair. This is so senseless and absurd and cruel. Kilgore seems to act with great conviction but then just dumps the water out into the air instead of giving it to the dying man and goes to find Lance. Kilgore is a great soldier but he has no real consciousness he's just a killing machine. But that he is a machine is what perhaps makes him sane in the eyes of the corporation even though he strikes me as quite obviously insane. But then I'm mentally ill.
Kilgore's love of surfing, of gnarly tubes and sweet peaks, is what gets him interested in helping advance Willard's mission. The absurdity of this is terrifying. But in watching this movie and reading it, in learning to see reality from its vision, one can learn from horror and moral terror a certain clarity regarding our need to choose love.
Kilgore talks to Lance and says it's an honor to meet him. (Kilgore is above Lance in the military hierarchy but he admires Lance as an alpha specialist in his field outside of the military.) The US Military is an honor culture, though it is the enemies of the US whom we point at and decry as illustrative of the problems of honor cultures. "Honor killings," as they call them, are committed by and in the US all the time, but they are presented in the corporate media narrative as being exclusive to foreign nonwhite nonchristian savages.
Fire and helicopters burn turn turn. Kilgore and some other surfing afficianados in his unit talk to Lance as we see a helicopter take off in front of a destroyed church airlifting some livestock. The camera travels with it and we witness men below reciting the Lord's Prayer. This foreshadows the ceremonial sacrifice at the end and presents the socalled civilized version of that which is insane when Kurtz does it. "Thy kingdom come, they will be done." That night they cook over open flames the t-bone steaks that Kilgore explains have been airlifted in. Kilgore likes his meat "rare but not cold."
"He wasn't a bad officer I guess," Willard says."He loved his boys..." and hated his enemies. But this love that is half hate is not True Love.
Over barbecued meat and beer they discuss Willard's mission. Willard suggests they take a certain village that would be a good entryway to the river but Kilgore says it's "hairy," or heavily armed and defended, and expresses hesitation until another soldier informs Kilgore that the beach there is "tube city." The waves come in in two directions so twice the men can surf and the peaks are high and not too near to the shore. He also talks about how they've already lost a man there and that it's Charlie's beach. Kilgore explains to the young man that Charlie doesn't surf.
So they mount a vicious and terrifying airstrike. They will airlift Willard's crews' boat in and take the village with helicopters, jet fighters and napalm. The soundtrack for the airstrike is Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries, which they blast from the helicopters. "I use Wagner, it scares the hell out of the slopes. My boys love it." As did Hitler's. The delusional grandiosity, the pride, the horror and savagery of white supremacy and the war machine Victory Engine blast out of my television in screaming beams of bleached hate and fiery light. It's a slaughter. As time goes by perhaps more and more of the truth of just how vicious and genocidal the Vietnam War was will be revealed.
During the heavy fighting of the airstrike after they land on the beach, when a helicopter is down on the ground to pick up an injured man and a woman runs up, she would be called a terrorist today, and throws a hat in the helicopter, and the hat has a grenade hidden in it, and the helicopter is blown up and the crew is lost, and revenge must be taken and racist rapist hate speech and bullets must be spewed, so they go after her. "She's a savage... ....Dink bitch... ...roll that right skid right up her ass." The imagery is of raping her with the landing gear of the helicopter. Passionate revenge killing up close and personal. War culture is a rape culture.
Kilgore calls his enemies "fucking savages" but he is more savage than anyone. They slaughter more people and destroy more homes. Kilgore asks Lance about waves and about surfing. They take the beach and Kilgore tells his men to get into the water and surf ("you either surf or fight") while they have the chance. Then he calls in a napalm firebombing on the treeline to better secure the beach and the US war machine uses its advanced jet fighters to drop fire from the sky upon the jungle.
Kilgore loves the smell of napalm in the morning. He tells Willard and Lance a story about a particularly enjoyable firebombing. "We didn't find one of them, not one stinking dink body." A fire purge. And Kilgore talks about the smell (how canine.) "Smells like... victory." He likes the smell of holocaust because he's really into winning. Or is perhaps delusional from huffing fumes from the exhaust pipe of the Victory Engine and smoking the bodies of the dead like freebase. A lunatic death addict. But the corporation doesn't consider him insane, it considers him successful. But he has no true consciousness, is blind and shallow and all he wants to do is go out with his brothers and kill his enemy. But brothers and sisters our enemies are our brothers and sisters too though it often so pains us to admit because of what we ourselves are. That is why I say choose love.
"If that's how Kilgore fought the war, I began to wonder what they really had against Kurtz. It wasn't just insanity and murder; there was enough of that to go around for everyone."
After that they get free of Kilgore and get back on the river and the young men smoke some sweet sweet marijuana. Willard muses that the boys miss home but that for him there is no going back. "I knew that it just didn't exist any more." Then Chef is all high and he wants to get some mangos. He is not meant to be a machinegunner he is meant to be a saucier. Chef and Willard get off the boat and head into the jungle in search of fresh fruit. Chef talks to Willard about how the military ruins meat by the mass methods it uses to cook, makes a profanation of food preparation. The fearful symmetries of things efficiently mass produced. This scene with great lighting, (the lighting is great in every scene but this one I like special), great grey greens of jungle night until a tyger bursts out of the foliage, flaming orange burning bright.
The tyger totally freaks chef out. He's not made for this kind of life and death stuff and loses his head. They run back in the boat and talk about how you should "never get out of the boat." Unless you're going all the way like Kurtz. The men panic and fire into the jungle. Panic fire from the young men is another recurring theme and can be contrasted with the clarity of brutality practiced by Willard and eloquently commented upon by Kurtz.
Willard begins, or continues, to realize that he identifies with and admires Kurtz. He doesn't see Kurtz as an absolute and monstrous Other the way that the suits do. I can identify with Willard and Kurtz. I like living in the country away from the jive intellectuals who think they run it and who like shitty music. I'm all: "no, you're the one who's crazy, you're the ones who are ruining everything" etc. Calling from the funhouse like Iggy and The Stooges like a streetwalkin cheetah with a heart full of napalm raw power.
They soon come to a spot with pretty lights where they can get essentials like beer, fuel, cigarettes, ammo and sweet sweet marijuana. There's also a stadium set up there for a USO show with some rock n roll music and scantily clad dancing playmates for the boys. This is not just to entertain the troops but to generate desire and psychic energy and direct it into the war effort. That's actually what a lot of entertainment is. That is what the superbowl is. In this instance they use rock n roll music and objectified women. The casual misogyny of the men and their hostility toward that which they desire but cannot have speaks to the idea that violent aggression and sexual repression have a deep psychological relationship and that that is part of our problem, as Kurtz points out later in his remarks on war and obscenity. War destroys love.
Kurtz is like Ahab. He speaks real truths from the depths of his socalled madness. The young men heckle the women, who are dressed up in skimpy military and cowboy-and-indian costumes, echoing one of America's fundamental and essential creation myths involving the death purge of dark "savages" by hightech white people, "good white christians" with superior weaponry, which they think makes them more civilized than those whom they invade and savagely slaughter and subjugate.
Lance shouts out at a dancing playmate: "You fucking bitch!" with great glee. In many scenes Lance is something of an innocent, but here he becomes the voice of military misogyny. Misogyny is rampant in our current military and is a part of the insane savagery of war in general. This part troubles me in a way because Lance has a lot of good qualities, but The Man flows through everyone to some degree and even nice guys are capable of plenty of misogyny. Someone like Nick Kristof of the New York times might be a good example of a nice guy misogynist.
Eventually the troops riot and rush the stage and the women have to be airlifted out for their own protection and the stage collapses. The order of the event breaks down. Young men cling to the helicopter as it leaves and finally fall off into the green water. It's a shitshow. Chaos follows Willard everywhere, or he follows it. The snake swallows its tail. They head back up the river.
"Charlie didn't get much USO. He was dug in too deep or moving too fast. His idea of great R&R was cold rice and a little rat meat. He had only two ways home: death, or victory."
Death or victory.
"No wonder Kurtz put a weed up Command's ass." There is a lot of imagery in this movie involving shit, ass and bowels, and sodomy as domination. The river is a cloaca. But the men who run the war stay out of the shit. "The war was being run by a bunch of four star clowns who were gonna end up giving the whole circus away."
Willard reads more about Kurtz. Much of Kurtz' character is revealed through scenes of Willard reading about him on the boat as they travel from point to point on their journey. There's a pretty cool rhythm to this aspect of the structure of the storytelling. Willard talks about Kurtz as they travel upriver between checkpoints where progressively crazier stuff happens. During this section Willard reads a letter that Kurtz wrote to his son about being officially accused of murder by the corporation. "The charges are unjustified. They are in fact, and in the circumstances of this conflict, quite completely insane." It's the accusation-counteraccusation thing again. "I'm not crazy, you're the one who's crazy," like that song by Suicidal Tendencies. Our mania for and worship of victory and rivalry is our suicidal tendency, brothers and sisters. That is why I advocate mellowing out.
Kurtz is into war but he's also artsy and soulful. Like Ahab. Both know wrath-as-muse in the western epic tradition. On the way upriver they pass boats full of US military coming the other way. One soldier moons them as they approach what one Lieutenant will call "the asshole of the world" at the Dulong bridge. A soldier from another passing boat throws a smoke flare at their boat as a prank and it catches the canopy of the boat on fire. They catch friendly fire here you might say. Even the socalled friendlies can destroy you. The enemy is potentially everywhere. That is why power seeks absolute surveillance. Willard reads more about Kurtz' prowess as an army assassin and the details of how and why he went rogue.
And now Willard reveals a few details of his mission to the boat chief, who would have simply done his job without seeking to know because he does things by the book. But Willard, like Kurtz, is becoming more and more disillusioned with the dishonesty of how the military operates and so volunteers the information.
"That's Cambodia, Captain," the chief says.
"We're not supposed to be in Cambodia but that's where I'm going."
Soon after that WIllard reads these words from Kurtz: "In a war there are many moments for compassion and tender action. There are many moments for ruthless action - what is often called ruthless - what may in many circumstances be only clarity, seeing clearly what there is to be done and doing it, directly, quickly, awake, looking at it." Again this notion of brutality as clarity. A diamond hard crystal clarity in its fearful symmetries, the male war mind revealed further. Choose love.
They pass a flaming helicopter in a tree.
Now Lance dons facepaint, which is probably what I would do. He hangs out on the bow of the boat. Forward gunner. Longboard nose surfer.
Chief asks him: "What's with all the green paint."
"So they can't see ya, they're everywhere chief."
This is both paranoiac and eminently logical in the tradition of the great Kurt Godel. Go delve that weird twinship, that fearful symmetry, the mirroring of machine logic and paranoia, in the works of Thomas Pynchon if you dare, but remember that he more than anyone is out to get you personally from his invisible headquarters behind the facepaint of The Word.
Seeing the enemy everywhere and the hypperrational subconscious psychoid fusion of logic and paranoia are essential to the mind at war. The Man needs to be able to turn any man against any other, brothers and sisters, that he may generate human energy and skim the cream from the top. He seeks ultimately to fuse man with fire entirely and to make thermonuclear devices out of the fission and fusion of the souls of men, that the stardust may compete with the stars and defeat the universe.
The paranoid logic of the facepaint has a light and humorous quality, but soon after that we come to another point of tension when Willard's boat comes across a local boat and the boat chief says they have to inspect it because that's what the book says. Because any civilian could be running supplies to the enemy. They're everywhere, chief. Who can even tell a civilian, terrorists hide behind civilian facepaint, like we currently accuse those whom we assassinate in Yemen, and elsewhere, of doing.
During the boat inspection it becomes apparent to the globals that the locals are hiding something. Isn't this always the case. White people would rather be omniscient with a glance but white people can't get no satisfaction. They search the boat, and chef is nervous. Things get very tense as it becomes obvious that the people on the boat are trying to hide something. Wouldn't you?
Fear and aggression are fused in the male human psyche much in the same way that logic and paranoia are. It's logical to expect anything from anywhere in a truly volatile conflict, to feel threatened by everything. And if you give your enemy credit for knowing what war really is, then you should expect him to be capable of anything anywhere anytime. You can't ever let your guard down. Hypervigilance is one of the main symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder among veterans and it contributes to their high rates of suicide as the suits in the corporation deem it acceptable casualty while simultaneously branding war with hypocritical "support our troops" sloganeering.
They end up freaking out and shooting up the boat, killing civilians. Things get confusing and unstable and they attempt to stabilize it with giant guns in the American tradition. This only creates more death and confusion.
The woman that Mr. Clean (purge it with firepower(tm)) shoots was trying to protect something and the Americans could tell that the people on the boat were hiding something but this time it is not a grenade hidden in a hat. This time it is a puppy.
A puppy. An innocent. A creature whom one is right to seek to hide and protect from the savage ugliness of men. (Man the dog who in the savage backward mirror of his own mind sees himself as god.) But this logic of kindness is slaughtered by the logic of war. The young men fire indiscriminately, in a panic. They even fight over the puppy. Lance takes it from chef after some shoving and yelling.
The woman that Clean shot in the back is not yet dead. Boat chief tells the men to load her into the boat so that they can get her help. He is going by the book. But Willard plays by a different book, he plays more by the book of Kurtz and Hassan I Sabbah than that of Chief Phillips, and what others perhaps see as his brutality he sees as clarity and a means to the completion of his mission, so he shoots the woman dead to eliminate any ambiguity. The mission is more important than the ostensible rules. That is how covert assassination works. And it is not merely since Willard's drunken morning that we have been living in the time of the assassins.
Further on up the river toward the heart of it all things get darker. Willard is outraged by the dishonesty of it all and hates the lies, yet as a covert assassin he lies quite a bit, so though he hates The Man he still reflects Him. He reflects on the river via voiceover some more before their next stop at the Dulong Bridge, the last US outpost on the river.
"Beyond it was only Kurtz."
There are lights and noise and a firefight going on in the darkness as they approach the bridge. Chef asks Lance what he thinks and Lance says "it's beautiful," and Chef asks him why he's acting so weird and Lance explains that he has eaten some LSD that he had. As an old acid head I like some of the Lance-on-acid stuff but sadly Lance is on more than just an LSD trip and as things go on he loses his mind more and more. He's merging with his environment and the whole go-with-the-flow ego loss psychedlic thing can have disastrous consequences in a hellish war zone.
As they arrive, young American soldiers run into the river screaming at the boat to save them. "Take me home!" They are like orphans. Panicked boys.
Another flaming helicopter.
The boat doesn't stop to help. One of the abandoned cries out: "You'll get what you deserve!"
They find a lieutenant bearing information, an update on Willard's mission and mail from home for the boys on the boat. Having delivered the information the lieutenant tells Willard that he can't wait to get out of there now that he's completed his mission. He tells Willard as he flees: "You're in the asshole of the world, captain!"
They can't leave yet though because Willard wants more information, so he goes into the heavy fire zone to search for it. Chief sends Lance with him to protect him but Lance is too starryeyed and dosed out to be a good guard dog, and Willard ends up watching over him. Lance carries the puppy in his shirt near his heart. Willard and Lance's wandering through the hellish combat zone while demented carnival music plays is one of my favorite parts of the movie. Willard is trying to find a commanding officer but cannot. This place is fatherless but full of war. (Sometimes War is the Father, as Heraclitus, the fiery one, the weeping philosopher, might have said.) The lighting in this scene is particularly good, with throbbing alternations between light and dark. Tao. Coppola's films always have exquisite lighting in general. There is no finer cinematic chiaroscurist.
In a particularly powerful scene he asks a young man who has just killed an enemy soldier with a grenade launcher if he knows who's "in command here," and the young man says "yeah," but then walks away without specifying whom. Who is it that he refers to but does not name.
Willard realizes then that there is no commanding officer and that he will not find the information that he is looking for. And so it's back on up that old old river again. They leave without the information and without scoring any more gasoline but Willard scores some ammo. Boat chief Phillips expresses despair here. He knows they are going beyond the book and the standard orders. Beyond the hierarchy of the US military into a place where commanding officers and boat chiefs are no longer in command. Into chaos and wilderness. Outer dark.
Chief speaks of the neverending confusion of creation and destruction, end and beginning, of a war run by suits: "You're on your own, Captain. Still wanna go on? Like this bridge: we build it every night. Charlie blows it right back up again. Just so the generals can say the road's open. Think about it. Who cares?"
Willard has to impose his will here: "Just get us upriver!"
Back on the river heading up to the heart, the boys read their mail on the boat. ("Take me home!") Throughout the movie we see the contrast between young men who want to get back home to civilian life and people like Kilgore, Willard and Kurtz for whom war is home. Willard's mail from home is different than that received by the boys. The intelligence communication that he has received informs him that the last man sent to do what he did joined Kurtz instead of assassinating him. Captain Richard Colby.
Chef receives some interesting mail here, a clipping about Charles Manson, who was often referred to as "Charlie" by his followers, the same name that the US soldiers use to refer to the Viet Cong. This speaks to the film's themes of assassination and insanity and provides another echo or reflection. The writing in the news clipping associates Manson with antiwar protestors. That is still part of the American conservative narrative of the 60's.
"Charles Miller Manson ordered the slaughter of all in a home as a symbol of protest.. hey, that's pretty weird!"
These words from a guy who is slaughtering people in their home, a US soldier in Vietnam. And what's more, the US military kills people at far far greater scales and more madly than Manson. Manson's crime was taking advantage of the young and lost and getting them to kill people. That's what the US military does on a scale that dwarfs anything manson could actually do. But like Kurtz Manson is a weirdo "crazy" person and so becomes an American Demon. American Demonology is a very real and understudied phenomenon. Point your finger at it and assassinate it!
Soon after leaving the Dulong Bridge and heading back upriver the boat and crew get caught up in a very nasty firefight against unseen ("they're everywhere, chief") enemies firing from within the jungle along the riverbanks. They lose the puppy, and Mr Clean, scarcely more than a pup himself, is killed. Touching Mr Clean's body, Chief gets blood on his hands and experiences something of an anagnorosis. The true nature of Willard's mission and his complicity in Mr. Clean's death are revealed to him. He weeps. This is the beginning of the end for Chief.
Next they travel through mist past a fire on the banks and they enter a deep fog and we hear a weird screaming coming from unseen people on the banks as the boat passes through a great white nothingness like the war state itself. Chief says they have to stop because they're blinded but Willard overrides him. Lance yells back weirdly at the weird screaming from the front of the boat, goin with the flow.
"He was close. "He was real close," Willard says, referring to Kurtz. Soon they are attacked from the banks again, but not with guns this time, with "little toy arrows." Chef returns fire in a panic and Willard tells him to stop doing so. Willard explains to them it's a psy op, "they're just trying to scare us," but his warnings go unheeded and everyone panics. The notion of The Other being more alien and threatening than a better-armed but more recognizable opponent is involved here. Lance, being the wild and crazy guy that he is, makes a Steve Martin arrow head prop out of one of the arrows and proceeds to fire off his machine gun kind of randomly. Now even Chief picks up a gun. He has no remaining faith in Willard and thinks he's crazy. So he flips out and starts firing. This ends up being a bad idea because he is then impaled by a spear snuck in among the nearly harmless arrows. His last words are "a spear" and with the very last of his energies, before he dies, he tries to strangle Willard.
Lance applies facepaint to the dead chief and kisses him with his own painted face. The sunlight gleams warmly on the water. This death ritual mirrors the death rituals at the beginning and end of the movie. Lance is on the other side now, he broke on through when he ate the acid. I'm a pro so I know how these things happen. The thing is, not everybody comes back from the perimeter.
Now Willard reveals more of the truth of his mission to Chef and Lance and is prepared to travel the rest of the way on foot and allow them to leave in the boat. You're part of a human sacrifice blood ritual that those in power use to get even more power, he says. Actually he doesn't say that, but he could have. He explains that his assignment is to kill a rogue colonel from the US Army. Chef loses his head and flips out again. But then he convinces Willard to get back in the boat so that they can all go together as Lance bathes chief in the firegolden waters and then lets him go into the river.
"But the thing I felt the most, much stronger than fear, was the desire to confront Him." Take note, victory addicts.
They continue upriver. Fires burn on the banks. Lance does a weird slow dance mirroring the dance of death that Willard does at the beginning and ends of the movie with positions that mirror the ancient positions of the dance of distruction of that old god who is known to appear occasionally as a pillar of fire.
Endlessly spinning like the rotors of helicopters, the engines of history, the cycles of death and rebirth that we all suffer, spinning, turning, burning, dancing, fiery gyres of of the whirled whorled world, endless RPM's, more and more hertz, more and more hurts, revolutions spinning in the blind lust for winning, and that is why, brothers and sisters, when you ask me, when is the revolution going to start I ask you, when in the hell are the goddam motherfucking revolutions gonna stop? When will we awaken from the devil's dizzy daydream and learn to love like we ought?
Now they meet bleached people. Many people standing on the river, painted white in primitive boats. Shining whiteness is their raiment that they may not be cleaned or brainwashed any further like Mark 9:3 perhaps but who could confirm such a thing. Does the American war machine seek to bleach the entire world with it's fire you betcha drill drill drill.
The people painted white in boats part to let the boat through. They watch in silence. They are human, so they think, but are so weird as to appear thoughtless in their way. Willard tells Lance, keep your hands off the guns. He knows not to invite chaos here.
The person who eventually speaks to them, who greets them and explains the scene, is an American photojournalist whose name we never discover, played by Dennis Hopper. We're kind of beyond names here. Contrast with the other kind of white world at the beginning of the movie with the recording devices and the identity verifications.
Hopper tells them: "Zap em with the siren!" and they cow the locals with their hi tech psy op and stablize the region as it were. Technology is magic, to paraphrase Arthur C Clarke.
Also: naked dead bodies hanging from trees. A master of death lives here and he speaks through the dead to all who would enter his world.
Hopper's performance in this movie is amazing. He's a raving cult follower journalist nutjob much like Thomas Friedman and David Brooks of the New York times.
"It's alright, it's alright, it's all been approved!" he says. He means by Kurtz. From here on in everything is being run by Kurtz. He is orchestrating his own death. War is suicide, brothers and sisters, and it is in some way, some terrible way, mankind's most true and most false religion. Always remember that Kurtz is actually less murderously insane than the president. Do you not underrstand how Barack Obama put Osama Bin Laden's head on a stick as a vulgar display of power meant to control you, you fucking savages?
Now we have Willard and Hopper doing intelligence-counterintelligence.
"Who are you?" Willard asks him.
"Who are you?" nameless asks back like a mirror echo, laughing.
"Who are all these people?" Willard asks.
This all reminds me of the song Who? by the Brian Jonestown Massacre for some reason.
"They think you've come to take him away, I hope that isn't true..."
"Take who away?"
"Him! Colonel Kurtz. These are all his children, man... ...Hell man out here we're all his children."
Themes here of power and identity and of the power dynamics of knowing vs being known, seeing vs being seen, speaking vs listening.
"Could we talk to Colonel Kurtz?"
"Hey man, you don't talk to the Colonel, you listen to him."
Hopper's raving is very inspired. Oracular fire. Or insanity. Whatevs. Eyes burned clean by the word of his great white god. Reflecting the fire of Kurtz. Both men fugitive from the land of false profits. Burning and turning in the vertiginous vortex of the engine or heart that pumps the bloody machine of a human history whose head writer is war. A hollow man. A golem, a Moloch.
Nameless Hopper wants to follow Willard and take pictures. Then tells Willard about how the other day Kurtz wanted to kill him for taking his picture. Echoes of punching the mirror that holds you. Power seeks to see and not be seen.
Willard then comes face to face with Captain Colby, the previous assassin sent by the establishment assassins to assassinate the rogue assassin who ended up getting lost in the funhouse and joining Kurtz. Colby wears facepaint and has some blood on his hands. When Willard says his name to him, he says nothing in response, just stares. Willard sees something of himself and of Kurtz in Colby. A mindlessness of hollow mirror men maybe. Also: severed heads on sticks.
"The heads, you're looking at the heads."
Brothers and sisters I'm going to ask you now because I want to know: are heads on sticks and dead bodies hanging from trees a more vulgar display of power as a means to more power than Kilgore's Die Valkyrie rampage, or the bombing of Cambodia as ordered by the highest-up? Or does it just seem so frighteningly otherly because not properly industrialized and western? Or is it the true madness of industrialized western war laid bare? Is all war not an elaborate suicide ritual practiced by a mad cult in the name of an insane false god?
They can't get to Kurtz right away, he's in the jungle, "with his people," and so Willard and Chef head back to the boat to wait with Lance. Lance does wear facepaint and do the dance of death but he is a different expression of the energies of it all than Kurtz and Willard, though they all express those same energies. Different facets of a multifarious reflection. The Man can appear through any man. Through any human, any animal, any plant, any rock or drop of water. Any least atom. He's everywhere. That is why I wear facepaint.
Chef cannot handle this scene, he is terrified by the "pagan idolatry" of it all, so he stays in the boat when Willard goes back into the jungle, bringing Lance this time. Willard gives Chef the command codes to call in an airstrike and purge it all with fire if he does not return to the boat by a certain time. Willard can kill with his bare hands but also with his mind, his knowledge, his information. The priveleged information he has, the names so to speak, the command codes for an airstrike to burn everything unto nothingness with fire from the sky if he is unable to do the job by hand. Though of course Kurtz knows things too, and he knows this, he knows the paranoid-logical truth of the facepaint: they're everywhere.
So Willard and Lance walk into the jungle. There are dead bodies all around them.
"If I was still alive it was because He wanted me that way."
Kurtz is in power here. He is destiny. For Willard anyway. Because that thing that moves through Kurtz also flows through Willard and seeks to smash them together and see what fires result. The Man clapping two hands together. The Man has more hands than Kali.
And we see many many hands as Kurtz' people swarm Willard, chanting... he submits. Lance too submits and joins the cult immediately. Just goin with the flow. Willard is captured by a chanting, seemingly undead swarm of humanity. Pretty sure most politicians feel like that's what voters are.
They take Willard (hands bound behind him) to Kurtz' chambers in a temple atop the compound. It smells "like slow death.... ...malaria... nightmares. This was the end of the river alright."
Now we will finally meet Kurtz in the flesh. His there, shrouded in darkness, and rises into the light. He asks Willard where he is from. Knowledge of another's identity is a form of power. Kurtz finds out where Willard was born. Willard says he is from Ohio and Kurtz asks him how far from the Ohio River, Kurtz is into rivers. He speaks to Willard of riding a boat on the Ohio River and witnessing a heavenly flower plantation. "Heaven on earth in the form of gardenias." Guy likes plants and jungles. And is cool with plantations.
Then he asks Willard: "Have you ever considered any real freedoms?" As opposed to the fake freedoms pedaled as brands by the military industrial complex. "The corporation."
"Freedom from the opinions of others, even from yourself?" Mystical assassin poet of consciousness speaking of ego loss here. Reminiscent of the legendary phrase allegedly (true or untrue) uttered by Hassan I Sabbah, old man of the mountain, godfather of hash eaters and master assassins: "Nothing is true. Everything is permitted." Or maybe it was Karl Rove who said that. Or Barack Obama. They all say it in their way. We all do I guess.
Kurtz performs ablutions upon himself as they speak. Willard confesses his mission here like a layman to a heretic warrior priest, apostate of state violence, the assassin poet Kurtz. They discuss the justifications of Willard's mission. The assertion by the brass that Kurtz' methods are unsound.
Kurtz: "Are my methods unsound?"
Willard: "I don't see any method at all, sir." (Notice that Willard addresses Kurtz as "sir," as a higher-up. Also here we have echoes of Hamlet in the question of madness and method.)
Kurtz: "Are you an assassin?"
Willard: "I'm a soldier."
Kurtz: "You're neither. You're an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks to collect a bill."
Once again Kurtz shows insight into the madness of a war run by technocrats. He's more of a warrior poet than a warrior manager. There's a difference. Of course, compared to someone like myself they're all murderous wackos though i'm not sure they're crazier than I am to be honest.
Then he has Willard confined to a bamboo cage. Kurtz uses torture techniques to bend Willard to his will that are horrifying, terrifying, but no less so than the acts of the US torture program in the wake of 911. Abu Graib and Gitmo are perhaps two high profile examples but the US had and still has black (hearted) sites in countries all over the world where it seeks to break people's souls as a means of getting something out of them. Occasionally information, but very often something closer to violent revenge. Kurtz seems more insane because he doesn't outsource everything. The technocrats prefer that their methods be invisible. They lie about what war is and from the standpoint of a visionary warrior assassin this is very dishonorable. Maybe this is just because I'm evil, brothers and sisters, oh I am as evil as it gets and don't you ever forget it, but I can understand how Kurtz and Willard feel. Alienation of labor was a big problem in the Vietnam war. Fragging is a big part of this war's legacy.
But though he is holding him captive without basic necessities, Kurtz "likes" Willard, and has "got something in mind" for him, as nameless Hopper tells Willard while feeding him water from a ladle. Willard is being prepared for his part in a suicide death-dance ritual that is all human war in microcosm. This death dance at the end will mirror the dance at the beginning (riverrun) where Willard punches the mirror, or The Man, or himself, or all three turn turn turn. The same song, The End, by The Doors, will be used.
Nameless Hopper explains to Willard that: "The man is clear in his mind, but his soul is mad."
He's referring to both Kurtz and The Man here. The madness of the maniac funhouse of the war mind, reflecting perfectly but reflecting what. And he explains cryptically: "I'm not gonna help you, you're gonna help him, man." Which is to say Willard will play an essential part in Kurtz' ceremonial suicide. As he sought to destroy his own reflection in the mirror in the beginning death dance so now will he seek to destroy Kurtz whom he has come to mirror the more the nearer he gets to him. As Hopper rants, nameless people scream madly from the jungle. "When it dies, he dies...." And nameless Hopper tells him, I am not going to be the one to tell the story (even if a journalist), you are. And Willard will. Tell your stories, brothers and sisters, the hard ones if you can, that we as a species may finally learn love!
Then we cut to Chef. "Almost eight hours..." he says. That is the deadline for whether or not he calls in the airstrike to purge it all with fire. He tries to tell himself he's dreaming. He establishes radio contact with "Almighty," the codeword for their radio contact and command center, and they speak back to him, but there is a cut before we see whether or not he gives them the strike codes, he may have just been establishing radio contact...
And then we see a pair of feet walking through the mud. Kurtz among the torches in the darkness and the pouring rain and the mud. The cloaca.
Willard looks up from his cage, his face now painted over with mud, (so they can't see you... they're everywhere), and he sees Kurtz, who also has facepaint, camouflage, mirror mirror burning dark. Kurtz then places Chef's severed head into Willard's lap and Willard begins to struggle and scream, and then begins to weep. Kurtz is breaking him. An historical example of when we as a nation did this kind of thing to our own citizens would be Project MK Ultra. This is part of what they call "military intelligence." Men with clear minds whose souls are mad using domestic civilians as lab rats for the purposes of figuring out how to program people that they may more effectively serve the corporation.
Time keeps happening as is its wont. The next morning Willard is brought back to Kurtz' chambers in the temple and they give him water and rice. These are classic shock doctrine torture zombification programming tactics that people use to make other people into mirrors of their own dark desires. Kurtz is reading a poem... "We are the hollow men..." and nameless Hopper does some pretty classic ranting and raving. This is where he explains the "dialectic logic" of the film and of war. "You either love someone or you hate them." We love our own but viciously hate those whom we think are the bad guys. We think of our own as civilized and The Other as savage, though all are capable of the same good and evil at any time. Do you remember George W Bush after 911 and the rhetoric of his declaration of "The War on Terror" that is in itself a Terror of The Man. "Either you are with us or you are with The Terrorists." The Man loves Terror because it allows him to draw strong lines in a web around the world.
Kurtz will express this all as oracle and conduit in his final speech. These are the hollow men, lost in the great white nothing of the madness and heat of the human Victory Engine. Who stared into the abyss until it ate them inside.
Hopper realizes the end is near now and flees. We watch a slow camera pan shot of a giant stone head, an idol in the jungle that resembles Kurtz. Willard stays with Kurtz for days. He speaks now as if no longer being held captive. "Not under guard, I was free, but he knew I wasn't going anywhere." He knew more about what I was going to do than I did." How much of this is Stockholm Syndrome writ in the programming language of severed heads. Kurtz' method seems clear to me.
Kurtz is a darkly insightful man and has seen into the heart of war. He has "seen horrors, horrors that you've seen. But you have no right to call me a murderer. You have a right to kill me. You have a right to do that, but you have no right to judge me.
"It's impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror! Horror has a face, and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not, then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies.
"I remember when I was with Special Forces. Seems a thousand centuries ago. We went into a camp to inoculate the children. We left the camp after we had inoculated the children for polio, and this old man came running after us. He was crying. He couldn't see. We went back there, and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile. A pile of little arms. And I remember I … I … I cried. I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out. I didn't know what I wanted to do. And I want to remember it. I never want to forget it. I never want to forget.
"And then I realized, like I was shot! Like I was shot with a diamond … a diamond bullet right through my forehead. And I thought: My God, the genius of that! The genius! The will to do that! Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. And then I realized they were stronger than we, because they could stand that these were not monsters. These were men, trained cadres — these men who fought with their hearts, who had families, who had children, who were filled with love — but they had the strength, the strength to do that.
"If I had ten divisions of those men, then our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling, without passion, without judgment. Without judgment! Because it's judgment that defeats us.
"I worry that my son might not understand what I've tried to be. And if I were to be killed, Willard, I would want someone to go to my home and tell my son everything – everything I did, everything you saw – because there's nothing that I detest more than the stench of lies. And if you understand me, Willard, you will do this for me."
This speech reflects all the themes of the movie and of this sermon, brothers and sisters. Of the murderous funhouse of human war. The Man loves the murderous funhouse of human war.
And after this speech, this great and terrifying fire sermon of the assassin poet-mystic, it is time for the ritual proper to begin.
There is music and dancing outside down beneath the temple as the sacrificial livestock is brought out among the people in the rain. Campfires, torches, mud. Water and fire are both creative and destructive elements. Lance is wearing the facepaint of the Kurtz cult now, goin with the flow, playing with some children whose innocence he still reflects somehow in the midst of all this bloodmud. This place that seems like a savage hell to the white western mind.
Cut back to the boat. The corporation is trying to get in touch with the boat but there is no answer. Willard: "Everybody wanted me to do it, him most of all." War is an elaborate suicide ritual. It is a slaughter of souls. "I felt like he was up there, waiting for me to take the pain away.
Not unrelated to this is the fact that a kid at the Army base by my house, Fort Drum, killed himself while on duty recently. Nor unrelated is the story of my own life and the house I live in now. This was my Uncle Steve's house and I helped him die when he chose to. I was holding his hand when his heart stopped. There was great horror, terror, in this experience, but there was also real love, and writing of it makes me weep and shake, but brothers and sisters if there is one thing that I can tell you now of the truth revealed to me in the experience, the real revelation or apocalypse of it, it is that the horror is not my friend or my enemy, it did not give me clarity but only pain and confusion, but The Love taught me, or reminded me, of great truths beyond thought, because every human soul is reflected in every other, and it is Love that is Truth and can give us hope of saving ourselves from ourselves if we choose it, but that True Love can be more terrifying than anything because it requires seeing through all the confusion, all the napalm and the lies, all the facepaint and white nothingness. And the message of this movie for me is that we must love or we will be engulfed by soullessness and suicide and incinerate ourselves in the hell on earth that we have wrought. Or maybe I'm crazy too. It's a mad world.
Willard arises out of the dark waters of the river in facepaint. "Even the jungle wanted him dead. And that's who he really took his orders from anyway." He makes his way up to the temple, stalking through shadows with a machete as Lance washes the sacrificial beast with blood. What does it mean to be washed unto whiteness in blood I wonder. Kurtz is talking into a microphone, broadcasting, when Willard arrives. "We train young men to drop fire on people. But their commanders won't allow them to write 'fuck' on their airplanes because it's obscene!" The music accelerates as down under the temple they slaughter the beast. Willard hacks Kurtz to death with his machete in Kurtz' chambers above. As above so below. The rivalry between a man and himself is the rivalry between two men is the rivalry between all men. Choose love. Choose mercy. Choose forgiveness.
Kurtz' last words are: "The horror. The horror."
After Kurtz' death there is a great quiet. "The rest indeed is silence" as Cormac Mccarthy said in Suttree. The question of to be or not to be echoes through the ages. We ask ourselves in mirrors again and again. After killing Kurtz Willard looks into his notebooks. Scrawled over some of the writing, in bigger letters: "Drop the bomb, exterminate them all!" Is this a message from Kurtz to Willard to call in an airstrike and drop fire on his cult? Echoes and reflections of the death-mystic madness of the reverend Jim Jones.
Having killed Kurtz Willard has the option of replacing him. He comes out of Kurtz' quarters and the cult kneels down before him. He eyes them suspiciously from behind his facepaint.
He throws down his weapon and they part for him and drop their own weapons as he has done. He finds Lance among them and he takes him by the hand and they leave together on the boat. Lance is insane now but for me still retains some glimmer of innocence. As if he is mad in his mind but his soul is clear. Voices seek them through the radio. Willard does not respond. He has washed his facepaint away. They head back down the river, going home.
Echoes of Kurtz whispering horror in the darkness and the rain as the movie ends and the credits roll.
Brothers and Sisters.