Hearts of Darkness poster

“My movie is not about Vietnam… my movie is Vietnam.”

Francis Ford Coppola

It may sound like a directorial delusion of grandeur but there are very real parallels between the unorthodox production of Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (loosely based on Conrad’s Heart of Darkness) and the Vietnam War itself, as he acknowledges “there were too many of us, we had access to too much equipment, too much money, and little by little we went insane.” With a front row seat to this insanity was Eleanor Coppola, his wife, who shot footage of the production over its gruelling 238 days of principle photography in the Philippines. A symphony of disasters ensued that would be unbelievable if they were not documented, with Coppola facing ruin if he failed to complete the self-financed film. He gradually adopted the role of Kurtz, the story’s mythical figure whose magnetism convinces others to follow him despite his evident madness. The documentary goes a long way to explaining the convoluted, largely inscrutable ending of Apocalypse Now, Coppola having abandoned the script entirely by this stage. My view is that the cinematic brilliance in the preceding hours is severely undermined by its failed conclusion. As a result, the continually riveting cautionary tale of Hearts of Darkness is actually superior to Apocalypse Now itself.