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.
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.