ENGL245 Final Paper

Apocalypse Now vs. Fight Club

Even though they don’t fit the usual “Hollywood Film” customs, films that make viewers think can still be very popular and successful. “Apocalypse Now” and “Fight Club” are two such films that captivated audiences and got people to think long and hard about human nature. They explored the stories of two men who were exposed to some of the more primal and violent human instincts, and became emphatic members of the cultures that had, at one time, shocked them. Even though they came out in different eras, the subject matter in both films is still relevant today. The films take place in drastically different settings, Vietnam in the late sixties and urban America in the late nineties. Both feature an adult male protagonist who feels somewhat lost in the real world. The protagonists both have trouble functioning in mundane day-to-day life. Each protagonist is shown witnessing, and committing, gruesome acts of violence. As both films continue, these characters evolve and become more accustomed to, and more willing to commit, these acts. Captain Willard’s search for Colonel Kurtz becomes a look inside himself and other human beings. Similarly, the narrator’s experiences with Tyler Durden eventually make him see himself and other men in an entirely different way. The ideologies and social messages communicated through these two unique pieces of art have stood the test of time, and made both of these films classics.

“Apocalypse Now” uses one soldier’s journey to communicate all of the hellish features of war. As Willard travels further down the Nung River and witnesses more violence and human brutality, he begins to question if Kurtz is as crazy as his superiors think. Willard opens the door to the possibility of this type of violence being hidden somewhere inside of each and every one of us. A. Jay Adler writes in “Bright Lights Film Journal” about that message communicated in a scene where Willard is speaking with a woman who is seducing him. “In Apocalypse‘s restored plantation sequence… Roxanne Sarrault addresses the doubleness of human nature during her opium-assisted seduction of Willard, when she says that he, like her dead husband, has two people in him: the one who kills and the one who loves.” These lines in the film speak more to the duality of man, and the capability of normal people to commit inhumane acts when provoked or put in a stressful position. Watching Willard and the other characters and how they adapted to living in constant fear of attack spoke to the resilient nature of people, but it also revealed how accustomed and normal brutal violence can become to us all. The soldiers had seen so many gruesome scenes of chaos that dead bodies, or killing innocent people themselves, became something that they put out of their minds relatively quickly. Life became life in hell, and returning to anything that resembled normal would be very difficult. Francis Ford Coppola’s giant, near catastrophic, project was a frightening look into the deeper and darker realms of the human mind.

“Fight Club” was a very different film from “Apocalypse Now” in many ways, but it was similar in the way that it exposed the primal side of people. The unnamed narrator played the role of the protagonist, who was living a fairly successful life, but felt hopelessly lost, alone, and unable to express himself. The film’s story begins to get interesting when he meets Tyler Durden, loses everything he has, and begins to live his life more fully and dangerously. The film was a big departure from the normal Hollywood movies of the late nineties, and it made viewers think about themselves and the states of their lives. At many points, it lacked hope or a perfectly clear plot, two trademarks of the “Standard Hollywood Blockbuster.” Members of the fight club are encouraged to free themselves from their stale, sterile existences by returning to their most primitive violent instincts. The movement grows as more and more men feel liberated by the fight clubs, and the viewer is pulled into the action and becomes a part of it. “Fight Club” inspired a spirit of independence and rebellion from the modern idea of consumerism. Jonathan Eig of Jump Cut spoke to this, saying, “…If men are not accorded at least some measure of control over their destinies, they will lash out violently, and in the view of the ruling class, immorally, at their perceived oppressors.” In the film, Tyler’s followers sought to do this by destroying buildings. The film’s message was to convince viewers to do this, not by blowing up buildings, but by living life more authentically and finding a means, like a fight club, to express yourself.

These films both featured male protagonists who suffered through deep existential crises. The differences between the way that violence is used in these films are what sets them apart from each other. In “Apocalypse Now,” violence is meant to show the dark side of humanity, and the frightening truth that everyone has a breaking point. In “Fight Club,” violence was something positive and freeing. Inflicting pain on others, and being hurt yourself, gave meaning to life. While both films want you to take a look at violent behavior, they convey unique moral ideas. While “Apocalypse Now” seeks to show the dangers of conflict, “Fight Club” tries to show the benefit. Jethro Rothe-Kushel writes,

“Fight Club comments profoundly on America’s problems of meaning (e.g. indentured servitude to capitalism in a land of freedom, violence in a land of justice, consumer Darwinism in a land of community…” The narrator in “Fight Club” felt lost because there was a lack of drama and real excitement in his life, as opposed to Captain Willard’s struggle in adjusting to living in hell in Vietnam. The tones of the endings also are polar opposites, and give the audience two drastically different viewpoints on human nature. “Apocalypse Now” ends with Willard killing Kurtz, and the famous lines, “The horror,” echoing in the background. The ending, devoid of a happy resolution or any hope, is supposed to fill the viewers with sadness and fear at what humans are capable of. Watching “Apocalypse Now” is an event that takes you to the deepest depths of hopelessness for humanity. “Fight Club” ends with the narrator somewhat victorious. Having found out the true identity of Tyler Durden and beating him to regain control over his mind, the narrator gets the girl and survives with hope for the future.

            Both “Fight Club” and “Apocalypse Now” are great films because they carried relevant messages in a novel way, and give audiences insight into human behavior. They looked at this using violence and how people react and change based on what they see daily. “Apocalypse Now” examined violence on a grander scale, in the context of wars, and showed how people can be driven to insanity after reaching a breaking point. “Fight Club” saw violence as a way to reclaim masculinity and live a fuller life. In that film, fighting represented the freedom that day to day life in consumerist America couldn’t provide.

Bibliography

Jay Adler, A. “The Altered State of War.” Bright Lights Film Journal 45 (2004): n. pag. Web.

Eig, Jonathan. “A Beautiful Mind(fuck): Hollywood Structures of Identity.” Jump Cut 46 (2003): n. pag. Web.

Rothe-Kushel, Jethro. “Fight Club : A Ritual Cure For The Spiritual Ailment Of American Masculinity.” The Film Journal 1.8 (2002): n. pag. Web.

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Inception

“Inception” was a film that was billed and marketed as a blockbuster, Hollywood type film with stars in it. But the film itself was very unique and unlike anything else that had been done in film. It was an artistic event in the way that it never becomes easy to understand, and the ending can be interpreted in several different ways with many theories popping up among fans since it came out. I had seen this film a few times before, and this time allowed me to catch a few different things that I hadn’t seen before. I think that a film like “Inception” doing so well means good things for the future of the industry. It shows that big, moneymaking movies don’t have to follow a grand, “Hollywood” formula.

Chicago 10- Postmodern Documentary

“Chicago 10” was a documentary that explored the true story of the 1968 riots at the Democratic National Convention, and the ensuing trials of protest leaders. It was a snapshot of one of the most important times in America’s history, and gave viewers a chance to see some of the feelings and events that changed the country as it moved towards the end of the 20th century. The country was going through a transitional period, and there were intense feelings on both sides of the civil rights and Vietnam War debates. “Chicago 10” captures the apex of the conflict between the old way of thinking and the new way, and the explosion of feelings at the time.

This documentary included many features that classify it as Postmodern and gave it a very current feel. Animated characters in the reenacted scenes was something that, while distracting at first, ended up working because of the true events of the story. The animation was also a way for the director to connect with younger viewers who only saw the events of the late 60’s in abstract terms. Mixing in music from the 21st century along with the music of the time was another way to bridge the gap between the 1960’s and the 2000’s. The film was able to put events that seemed far in the past and show how the themes and ideas were still relevant 4o years later.

One of the more polarizing features of the film was the use of animation throughout. The director chose to use it in most scenes, and many important events were shown with animated characters reenacting them. The animated characters was an unexpected curveball that was somewhat distracting early on, but it was an artistic statement. The animated courtroom scenes captured the fantastical nature of the trial, as men were being threatened with serious jail time for, as they put it, their “state of mind.” For viewers who were able to get used to the use of animated characters, it became a great way to receive the story.

Zero Dark Thirty: Auteur Cinema

Zero Dark Thirty was a film that provided an inside look at many of the people who were appointed to fight America’s “War on Terror.” It gave an outside look into the feelings that we as viewers were feeling over the past 12 years since 9/11. It showed the lengths we were willing to go to get important information, and how those views and feelings changed as the search for Bin Laden dragged on for a decade.

Zero Dark Thirty has been referred to as an art film, and Bigelow as an auteur. There are many elements to this film that move it further from the mainstream and cliche, and justify these statements. The way torture was depicted in the film was one of the things that inspired strong reactions in people. Bigelow chose to show torture mostly for what it was, something horrible that was done that worked sometimes, and didn’t work other times. By including torture in the films, she chose to tell the story as close as possible to what actually happened, and do what artists do by inspiring feelings in viewers.

The film acted to show positive and negative qualities of Americans over the past decade. But the more important message it had was that there are moral costs to a revenge mission. During the film we saw many positive things about Americans, like working together and not giving up, but there were many lines crossed. People were tortured, the drone program was started and got a little bit of time on screen, and innocent people died. I don’t think the film’s purpose was to scold Americans for their attitude over the past 12 years, but I do think that Bigelow wanted to make sure that Americans knew everything that was done, good and bad, during the War on Terror.

Weekend: Social Context

Weekend was an offbeat film to say the least. It centered around two lovers, Corinne and Roland, who are planning on killing the other, claiming Corinne’s father’s inheritance, and living with a different lover. The film’s random nature, confusing plot, and (purposeful) bad acting all contributed to the its status as an anti-Hollywood picture. Its constant reminders to the viewer that it was only a movie, combined with its confusion and alienation techniques made this film a great piece of art that gave an interesting snapshot of the French New Wave era.

The film really looks at the class conflicts in an interesting way. It never really takes a side, rather choosing to show how foolish, annoying, or evil all sides can be. It shows the bourgeoisie people in a very negative light by highlighting their fake good will and greed. It did not show the poor in a really positive light though to offset that. It showed the poor people, like the tractor driver in the accident, as slow and foolish. Oddly enough, the thing that was able to unite these groups in some situations was the hate of a third party. There were never any characters that we as viewers could attach to, an important detail that forced us to look more critically at everything we saw. This was something that the audiences of a Hollywood film would very rarely be asked to do.

Goddard chooses to distance his audience from his characters by manipulating the acting styles we see. There are many instances of bad acting, whether it’s awkward dialogue, or moving dead bodies, we never settle into the normal comfort zone that we are used to when watching Hollywood films. I think Goddard did this to enhance the unique experience that this film gave. The characters never quite did what they were supposed to do, they didn’t learn anything, and there were no real good guys. He was able to turn the film into somewhat of a political and cultural statement that was critical of the American capitalist belief system but also the European counterculture of the time.

Far From… Heaven

Far From Heaven was a film that explored the problems Americans had, and still have with diversity among people. It attacked the issues that arose when a minority is introduced into a larger group and tries to coexist with the majority. The setting of a liberal Northeastern town in the 1950’s was used as a somewhat of a mirror for us to look into. The film bravely looked at how the differences between people divide us, and how many of us try to cross that divide and see past color and sexual orientation.

Far From Heaven looked honestly and challenged many old themes of society such as male supremacy, white supremacy, and Heterosexism. The director tried to convey his ideology by portraying the minorities, Raymond and Frank, as good people who Cathy really cared for. Raymond was the only character who could understand Cathy and how she felt, and they were able to break the color barrier and have a true relationship. Frank’s character was used in a slightly different way. He moved further away from Cathy as the film went on, but showing the negative reactions of people to Frank’s “problem” was the purpose of his character. The film is set in a time where these views, were going to change in the next decade or so, and the plot of the movie reflected the feelings of people at the time. They seemed to be getting ready for this change on the surface, but there was  lots of resistance to the actual practice of the new school of thinking.

The themes of differences in Sexual Orientation and Race are used in this film by the director to show how far America has come, but also how far we still have to go. When Cathy and her friend, Eleanor are talking about their views on gay people, Eleanor states that it would be another noble cause for Cathy to reach out and be friends with a gay man. She implies that she wouldn’t like to be around a gay man because of how differently they may act. Today, gay people are prominent in film and TV and are not forced as much to hide their identities. The same type of problems arise when Cathy is seen spending so much time with Raymond. The townspeople, white and black, while claiming to be for equal rights and desegregation, are shocked and angered. Today, all minorities are in a better place than where they were in the 1950’s. Haynes, the director, also uses scenes like these to draw parallels with people of today, where intolerance still occurs because of ignorance about race and sexual orientation. Far From Heaven was a film of reflection, on the mistakes of the country’s past, and the audience’s present.

Casablanca: Genre Film

The film Casablanca was a classic love story, with several twists and turns that gave it attributes of a few other genres. The film showed elements of, among others, romance, a war film, and a western. What made this film a classic was its ability to mesh these different elements together well to give many audiences what they loved in a film. Casablanca was able to appeal to a wide range of Americans due to the build up to World War II and the successful attempts by the director to reach several unique crowds that liked certain things in a film.

Casablanca was unique because it mixed a few genres together in a format that made sense. It started off as more of a war themed film, and soon after, the romance element was introduced. This added another layer to the story that made it more intriguing. Along the way, film noir characteristics can be observed, and acton packed scenes are thrown in for good measure. All of these styles can make a movie confusing, but what made Casablanca great was that it added to the enjoyment of the story. The mixing of genres drew in all types of viewers and united them in the patriotic feel of the time as America prepared to enter a second World War.

Casablanca’s mixing of classic conventions of different genres could have made this film a super conventional film filled with cliches, but the clever way it all fit together turn this movie into a more artistic picture that was accessible to more people. The combination of this wide range of film conventions was able to create a movie unlike any other of the time. People who liked romance got what they wanted, as did, action, war film fans, and film noir enthusiasts. Casablanca was a movie that was so much like so many other movies, that it stood on its own as a classic and unique piece of art.