Film: Double Bill
APOCALYPSE NOW (FRANCIS COPPOLA, 1979) THE WORLD OF APU (SATYAJIT RAY, 1959); TONY GERBER, DIRECTOR OF 'SIDE STREETS', RELEASED TOMORROW, ON HIS IDEAL CINEMATIC PAIRING
Thursday 22 April 1999
A Vietnam captain in Apocalypse Now is ordered to travel deep into the Vietnam jungle to eliminate an esteemed colonel, who has gone mad. The World of Apu, the final part of a trilogy, is about a man who is forced into a marriage, but through it arrives at an emotional awakening. When his wife dies in childbirth, in grief he becomes a drifter in the wilderness, and it is many years before he returns to look after the child. Apu lives through blind, youthful optimism, apathy, and the discovery of love. He dies and is reborn several times.
With these two movies, it's almost as if you have consumed two different substances. If Apocalypse Now is hunting for food, to cook and eat with your bare hands, The World of Apu comes through the nose. You inhale it and let it enter the body gently.
There is a spiritual quality to both films. An internal hell is portrayed in Apocalypse Now, and also the external hell of Vietnam. Hell is something inside Apu, and he is released from it in the final scene.
Apocalypse Now doesn't leave the audience with any hope; or rather the hope is that if you stay alive you have the potential to grow. The soldier is going back into society back to where he was previously out of his mind - but the hope is that through the process of identification with the mad colonel, he will not become him. Similarly, Apu finds some of the flavour of his wife in their child. In the reunion scene the look on his face is devastating.
To see these films together would be deeply instructive for any student of audience empathy. Both films evoke one emotional state: a sense that you belong to a team called humanity, and that the team doesn't have many winning seasons, but somehow sitting on the bench is an all- right place to be.
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