Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 masterpiece Apocalypse Now is the cinematic equivalent of a piece of toast falling sticky side up on a clean patch of floor. Throughout the film’s production, the crew encountered innumerable hurdles, and at times, Coppola’s project seemed about as doomed as the American war in Vietnam.
The ambitious project was loosely based on Joseph Conrad’s famous 1902 novella, Heart of Darkness, but updated in a Vietnam War setting. Orson Welles had previously considered the project in the 1940s, but he ultimately dropped the fiddly job in favour of Citizen Kane.
As Coppola grappled with the problematic source text and tried to capture the essence of war, moral decadence and military disorder, his crew began throwing issues left, right and centre. After overcoming Marlon Brando’s erratic, obstinate behaviour, Martin Sheen’s heart attack and his own epileptic seizures, Coppola turned around arguably the greatest cinematic achievement of his career.
At the Cannes Film Festival in 1979, the acclaimed filmmaker famously said: “My film is not a movie. My film is not about Vietnam. It is Vietnam.”
What is so appealing and unique about Apocalypse Now is its undoctored exposure to Vietnam and the realities of war and the recession of humanity. However, this unbridled realism was the source of notable consternation when fans realised just how real some of the scenes were.
In one of the scenes, a ritual performed by members of the Ifugao tribe is seen, which involves the slaughter of a water buffalo. Sadly, this scene is not a remarkable feat of special effects or make-up trickery. Indeed, you will witness a real animal slaughter toward the end of the film.
Animal rights activists and film buffs have confronted Coppola about the amoral scene. Understanding people’s dismay, the American director has stood by his inclusion of the graphic scene, explaining that he was merely documenting the reality of the world around him.
“I did not direct it or anything; that was the way they do it,” Coppola said to USA Today. As he protested, the buffalo was to be killed by the tribe anyway, and he just happened to be in the right place at the right time to capture the shot. He has also assured fans that he refused to have another buffalo handy in case extra takes were required.
“I’m not going to kill an animal for a movie,” Coppola reaffirmed. “I’m not going to kill anything for any reason.” Despite Coppola’s justification, Apocalypse Now is still the subject of widespread moral conjecture.
Watch “the horror” of the scene below. Warning: the video contains scenes of graphic violence.