It’s been awhile since I put up a scene I love from a film I love. Time to change that and what better way to do it than pick a favorite scene from one of the best films ever made: Apocalypse Now.
This particular scene occurs in the last act of the film which finally puts Capt. Willard (Martin Sheen) face-to-face with his target in the off-the-reservation Special Forces commander Col. Kurtz. This is the first time we actually see Marlon Brando in the role of Kurtz in a film that’s been obsessed with his character right from the very beginning. The glimpses we get of Kurtz are fleeting as he remains in the shadows with only his rumble of a voice giving weight to his presence in the scene. I have to admit that even after seeing this film for over a hundred times through the years it’s still pretty difficult to understand some of what he is saying. Yet, when such an occurrence would be a death for a scene it doesn’t for this scene. It only helps highlight just how far down the abyss this former paragon of American military might has put himself in to accomplish a mission given to him by people he dismissively call “grocery clerks”.
There’s no soundtrack to try and manipulate the scene for the audience. It’s just the ambient noises of the jungle and the ancient temple Kurtz and his people have called home. Even the dialogue in the beginning of the scene where Kurtz inquires about where Willard was from was full of menace and hidden dangers. It’s very difficult not to get hypnotized by this scene. There’s not a fake beat to the dialogue between Sheen and Brando. The way the scene unfolds almost acts like a metronome that lulls the viewer until the reveal in the end when we finally see Kurtz’s face in full for the very first time.
Coppola has done great work before this film with hi first two Godfather films but this scene in this film I consider the best he has ever put on celluloid.
“Kurtz: Are you an assassin Willard?
Willard: I’m a soldier.
Kurtz: You’re neither, you’re just an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks to collect a bill”