Throughout the history of cinema, war has been a prominent genre, producing some of the most important and best films of all time. Apocalypse Now (1979), directed by Francis Ford Coppola is a perfect example of this. Taxi Driver (1976), directed by Martin Scorsese, is a classic and brilliant example of how war veterans are presented in cinema, having perhaps the most significant and best example of an in-depth character study ever seen in cinema. American Sniper (2014) portrays both parts of the context, a characters time both at war and at home, presented through Clint Eastwood’s depiction of American hero Kris Kyle. In a brief summary, war in film is often presented as heroic and patriotic, but also as a living hell, violent, frightening and dangerous. It can also be used to represent the ideals and beliefs of a certain culture or nation, as well as being used as propaganda. For example, an American film portraying an American involvement in a conflict would undoubtedly be bias and focally centred around the heroism and success of those soldiers.
Apocalypse Now was released in the US in 1979, loosely based on the novel by Joseph Conrad, The Heart of Darkness; the film conveys the free-for-all of the Vietnam War. Underlying the representation of the war, is the gradual decline towards insanity and dehumanisation, as described in an extract from ‘Apocalypse Now | Analysis (Part One)’ (Text 1), which leads protagonist Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) on a journey through the hell of the Vietnam War. Channel Criswell’s analysis of Apocalypse Now, in his video (Text 1), offers an insight into the symbolism of certain characters and characteristics in the film, such as his describing of the Nung River being Willard’s literal path towards insanity, the further up the river he and his crew travel, the more insane and unstable they all become. Colonel Bill Kilgore (Robert Duvall) is another prime example of this insanity, as he is portrayed as more of a cowboy than a soldier. The way in which he dresses (wearing a classic cowboy hat) and conducts himself (wildly and careless) convey this persona. “The scene where Kilgore and his men have a barbecue on the beach before ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ scene is significant, along with Willard’s narration” (Text 1), this scene is symbolic as it depicts the way in which the men viewed the war, as if it were a life size game, with no consequence or reality. Therefore this portrayal of war in cinema reflects a video game like setting, with the consequences of actions void, almost suggesting that its okay to kill hundreds on Vietnamese during the day then kick back and have a beer with your mates. As well as this, Kilgore’s decision to aid Willard’s crew, by dropping them at the mouth of the river, is swayed when he is told about the waves at that beach, and the ability to surf them. This represents perfectly the leisurely attitude towards the war that the men have as they risk entering an extremely ‘hairy’ zone for the sake of surfing. This recklessness is also shown during the ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ scene, as two soldiers are ordered to either surf or fight by Kilgore whilst shells explode around them. This lack of authority and sensibility is presented in the actions of the soldiers throughout Apocalypse Now, again reflected, specifically in the Redux edition of the film, by Kilgore’s eager persistence to try and retrieve the surf board stolen by Captain Willard. During the Do-Lung Bridge sequence this lack of authority and professionalism in again conveyed, in which no clear chain of command or military professionalism is seen, rather a rag-tag group of soldiers endlessly fighting an invisible enemy. Also during this scene the choice of score reflects the craziness, sounding indifferent to the music found at a circus or carnival. This is why I believe Apocalypse Now portrays war as a careless activity, with no remorse or understanding for actions and consequences. However I don’t believe this is entirely the films objective, but more so a true reflection of the attitudes and state of the war in Vietnam in reality, as Coppola said himself at the films premiere, “My film is not about Vietnam. My film is Vietnam.” Therefore it should be considered that Coppola believes his film is a true reflection of the horrors and reality of the Vietnam war, particularly from an American perspective.
Charlie don’t surf – https://www.youtube.commWW1FeT1EyQ/watch?v=
Taxi Driver (Item 3) was released in 1976, written by renowned film critic and screenwriter Paul Schrader, the film depicts the lonely life of New York Vietnam veteran Travis Bickle. Scorsese’s film presents Travis as a lonely, detached man with instabilities, this is key to his character, “Travis is always a stranger”, this perception could be relevant to Travis’ time in the army, with the horrors of war forcing his detachment from society back home. His anger and distaste for “The perceived decadence and sleaze” of New York is a representation of his opinions, sort of ‘why risk my life fighting for this country when its backward at home’. Travis becomes a taxi driver because he cannot sleep nights; he is lonely and poor, as described in ‘Taxi Driver | Analysis (Part One) (Item 2), in the scene Travis applies for the job, he is distracted and concentrated on an argument in the background, rather than the interviewer in the foreground. This is shown through the cameras tilted angle in which the focus point from Travis’ perspective is the argument. “This implies his mental detachment and his drag towards violence” (Item 2). As well as this the dialogue of the scene reflects his detachment and isolation, “I cant sleep nights… ride around nights mostly, subways, busses, figure, you know I’m gonna do that I might as well get paid for it” (Item 3). This implies that Travis is psychologically damaged, with his lack of ability to sleep a symptom of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). HIs lack of sociability is reflective of his time away and perhaps the fact that after seeing the horrors of war he finds it hard to be company and accompany people, for instance his lack of understanding when dating (taking Cybil Shepard’s character to a porn cinema) and then harassing her after their swift brake up. In conclusion, Scorsese portrayed the veteran character of his film in a lonely way, with PTSD and the effects of the disorder common play throughout the film.
American Sniper was released in 2014; it portrays the true story of Navy Seal Kris Kyle and his four tours of Iraq, as well as his time at home with his family, between and after tours. The film portrays different messages and ideas, and also caused controversy on release as to whether it was genuine story or a piece of propaganda. “Kris Kyle in American Sniper posits him as the ultimate warrior”. However his character is portrayed in many other ways than just a heroic idol of war. This true story reflects on Kyles time at home as well as on the battlefield, which is important in determining how the Iraq War and the different context of time is represented in comparison to Vietnam 1970’s Apocalypse Now and Taxi Driver. The aspects of Kyles home life are conveyed in the film and his slipping from societal reality, he becomes drawn towards the war and unable to mentally leave it. His time as a veteran in he film is limited but it implies the mental struggle of leaving a war after having physically left, felt by so many veterans, again implying PTSD and reflecting similar representations made in Taxi Driver. His struggle is presented in a sad and moving way by Bradley Cooper, through his on-screen emotions and actions in homage to his true self and living family. One of the main features of the film is the way in which Eastwood chose to present the Arab and Muslim families and soldiers of the story, “The Iraqi’s are derided as “savages” in the film by Kyle and others. And though that may represent attitudes held by the characters, Eastwood does not make it clear enough that the filmmakers do not share their views.”, this could show how war is used in cinema as propaganda and in a bias way. During WWII “Both Russia and Germany worked diligently to consolidate political interests and the cinema into one giant vehicle for propaganda”. American Sniper could be said as being an example of American propaganda for the Iraq war and this would therefore change the way in which the war is presented in the film. It would be biased and centred on the American soldiers and their war efforts, as with Kyle and his squad. The film connotes incredible resemblance to ‘Nations Pride’, the fictional feature length film in Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds, in which a Nazi propaganda film about a German sniper is created to rally morale amongst German soldiers in occupied France. Although fictional this is how war films were used as propaganda during WWII and similarly resembles the way American Sniper could be said to be primarily a propaganda film.
In conclusion, considering all three films it could be suggested that war in film is presented in a truthful and legitimate way, portraying the horror and fright of a real life conflict as well as chaos and confusion. Whilst veterans of war are presented as being on the verge of insanity with a tendency to be distant from reality and suffering form PTSD. Indeed a fair reflection as many veterans struggle to get to grips with the reality of life at home and not on the front line.
Respect to all servicemen and women from everywhere in the world.