Not that there isn’t room for experimentation. The central storyline – Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) is tasked with tracking down and executing Marlon Brando’s rogue Colonel Kurtz – is essentially a slender thread upon which Coppola and his co-writer John Milius hang a number of increasingly wild asides. But these brief, brutal and seemingly unconnected incidents work together to drive the film forward: in their very randomness, they build a picture of a war being fought without strategy or clear intent, making Willard’s mission simultaneously clearer and more morally meaningless.
In contrast to Coppola’s earlier ‘The Godfather Part II’ and ‘The Conversation’, ‘Apocalypse Now’ isn’t a conspicuously ‘smart’ film: literary references aside, there are no intellectual pretensions here. Instead, as befits both its tortuous hand-to-mouth genesis and the devastating conflict it reflects, this is a film of pure sensation, dazzling audiences with light and noise, laying bare the stark horror – and unimaginable thrill – of combat. And therein lies the true heart of darkness: if war is hell and heaven intertwined, where does morality fit in? And, in the final apocalyptic analysis, will any of it matter?