War is Hell

Films that focus on the physical aspects of war, like Ridley Scott’s “Black Hawk Down” (2001), or the psychological – Francis Ford Coppola’s “‪Apocalypse Now‬” (1979) – afford the viewer a front-row seat to the visceral odyssey of modern combat.

“Black Hawk Down” draws up some character sketches then drops the characters (and the viewer) into the sensory-overload hell of a day-long firefight with an armed city in civil war-torn Somalia. Intense performances by Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, and Eric Bana. Additionally, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Tom Hardy have small but memorable parts. The first time I saw the film, I had trouble telling the men apart, though visually this works for the identity of the soldiers as a single unit, one of the through-lines of the script: “It’s about the man next to you.” One of ‪Hans Zimmer‬’s best scores, every musical piece brings a different feel and cultural texture, an incredibly difficult feat for a composer to pull off, yet everything sounds remarkable. ‪9/10‬ – Highly Recommended.

The companion piece I chose, “Apocalypse Now,” puts you in the hell of a warrior’s mind. Like the General says at the mission briefing, “We all have our breaking points.” Confronting one’s Jungian shadow (repressed desires) is always treacherous, though for someone whose moral compass has been eroded by the horrors of war, the conflict can take on palpable, murderous proportions. The stopping points for our anti-hero Willard along the Nùng River (synchronous to the river of the unconscious) are a map illustrating three ways warfare can destroy one’s morals. Looking at “Apocalypse Now” like an (anti-)grail quest, only Willard and the increasingly animal-like Lance are worthy enough to survive the rites of passage to the conclusion; the others on the boat cling too much to their own humanity. The film’s circular structure (Willard speaks in the past tense about the mission in the opening scene) is itself a metaphor for the downward spiral of war. In the film’s reality, spiritual darkness passes from one warlord to the man who kills him. To prepare oneself for the mantle of ultimate dark side power is – like we see performed by three different men (Willard, Lance, Colby) – a difficult-to-fathom mystic dance. The beautiful, vibrant visuals in the film only make the abyssal black that pervades final act stand out further by contrast. I won’t mention the actors by name; the performances are so total it’s like those men *are* the characters they portray. In every way, a masterpiece. 10/10 – My highest recommendation.

Hard to get happy after watching those. Here’s hoping IRL we all have the luxury of choosing our battles.

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