“The Journey Through and Into Darkness”
The Journey into Darkness – Who is in charge?
The Do Lung Bridge scene is particularly archetypal in the context of the movie Apocalypse Now and cinematography in general. The scene begins with the boat approaching the bridge, as it is the last military post on the Nung River. Meanwhile, Lance admits that he dropped the acid and is currently under the influence of the drug. As the Patrol Boat Riverine (PBR) approaches the bridge, other American soldiers are portrayed in the river, holding suitcases, and asking to be brought home. After that, Willard and Lance went to look for additional information and disappeared into the darkness. After encountering various individuals and investigating the situation, Willard and Lance come back to the PBR with ammunition. However, Willard failed to find a commanding officer (CO) and concluded that the crew should be moving forward to reach Kurtz. Throughout the scene, the audience sees the main characters entering the extremely chaotic world, which is effectively manifested through sound, lighting, and dialogue.
The choice of music and sound effects helps the audience to dive into the atmosphere of anarchy portrayed by the scene. After Willard and Lance left to investigate the area, they are immediately surrounded by uproarious sounds that help them fully feel the hopelessness and despair of the outpost. Various noises are merged to add to the scene’s chaotic nature, including the blend of agonizing screaming, artillery fire, and blasts in the river (Coppola, 1979). The soldiers in the trench are screaming at each other, adding to their psychotic nature as not a single individual acts in a rational manner.
Furthermore, when Willard and Lance examine a bunker, they see four men looking utterly uninterested in the disorder around them while rock music plays in the background. The director’s choice of melody helps the audience forget why the troops were in the Do Lung Bridge. The entire atmosphere shifts with the sound of rock music, making the scenery appear less similar to a conventional war zone. The music completely stops while soldiers are looking at the Roach charging the grenade launcher while the only sound the audience can hear is a Vietnamese man cussing Americans. The sudden shift from loud to quiet helps the audience to comprehend the brutality of the moment. Overall, the sounds of incorporeal cries, carnival tunes, and blasts generate an atmosphere of insanity.
Moreover, the lighting plays an essential role in portraying American soldiers’ mental state on the Do Lung Bridge. Throughout the scene, light reflects the arms and helmets, generating distorted shadows. The light is alternating from pitch black to bright helping the audience to observe soldiers’ faces. For example, Willard’s face appears entirely hidden in the shade, while when Lance raises above the trench, the flashlight covers his face and body (Coppola, 1979). The lightning here represents the mental and spiritual darkness of the people on this side of the bridge. This continuous alteration of lighting makes the entire situation appear imaginary and nearly dream-like. When the PBR leaves the bridge, it collapses, but the scenery looks appealing because of the lightening resembling fireworks and the dazzling glow. However, the dim, dark environment presents the Do Lung Bridge as a place that everyone in the world has neglected. Thus, the only illumination sources are fiery blasts, the Christmas lights surrounding the area, and a continuously moving flashlight.
The dialogues in the Do Lung Bridge scene are focusing the attention of the audience on the disorder among American soldiers. Willard observes the men in the trench with a feeling of uncertainty and misunderstanding. Williard asked a soldier holding a gun about the placement of their CO. However, the soldier believed that Williard was the person in charge, “Who is the commanding officer here? – Ain’t you?” (Coppola, 1979). Moreover, the individual called Roach is introduced into the scene; his name is metaphorical, as it represents one of the only creatures that could exist in a post-apocalyptic environment. After he fired a grenade launcher, Williard asks him, “Hey soldier… Do you know who is in command here?” and receives an assertive answer, “Yeah” (Coppola, 1979). The dialogue presents the idea that this individual knows who is in charge here but keeps it a mystery to a viewer and Williard himself.
The scene shows that people in the Do Lung Bridge do not need a physical commander anymore; they are guided by anger, misery, and hopelessness. Additionally, not recognizing the CO indicates that everyone is indiscernible at this point in the war, so there is no need to know the leader. Thus, after talking to the soldiers, Williard concludes that “There is no fucking CO here” (Coppola, 1979). As a person used to army discipline, he realizes the ambiguity of the situation, where lack of order and chaos is what guides people in this place.
The Do Lung Bridge scene is trying to portray a symbolic journey to the other world. The first part of the scene presents the viewers with soldiers appearing from the river as a metaphor for souls stuck in the purgatory, attempting to return to the living. Moreover, when Lance and Willard explore the trench, they find a soldier crying about a person called Beverly Hills. This is another suggestion that people here have gone insane from the apocalyptic environment and endless chaos. The director presented the infernal scene to deliberately mark Do Lung Bridge a turning point for Willard before entering Kurtz. The insanity of war is excellently captured in the phantasmagorical, apocalyptic scenery while Willard is in desperate need for authority in the bridge. Every night, Charlie destroys the bridge, but each day, the soldiers build it back again. This endless cycle is a manifestation of the reality that the American troops lost authority over the war while attempting to keep the image of a successful mission.
The Journey through Darkness – We are the people
The protagonist of Taxi Driver, Vietnam veteran Travis Bickle, lives in New York City, working night shifts. As a taxi driver, hence the name of the film, Travis encounters a wide variety of people in his line of work. In general, the majority of interactions Travis has with other New Yorkers are dark or unpleasant, including such aspects as prostitution and murder (Scorsese, 1976). Presidential candidate Charles Palantine rides in Travis’ taxi one night, which inspires Travis to reject the “filth” he sees around him (Scorsese, 1976). In the process, Travis undergoes both physical and psychological changes culminating in a plan to assassinate Palatine and a shootout with a gang. The analysis of the sequence of events, the examination of Travis’ mental state, and the exploration of the development of the movie’s climax helps the audience understand Travis’s breakdown.
Travis leads a meaningless existence, working long hours between visiting a pornographic theater and sitting at home. He meets Betsy, a campaign staffer for Presidential candidate Palantine. He successfully asks her out on a date but takes her to a pornographic theater, leading Betsy to leave in disgust. During Travis’ work hours, he is exposed to degradation in New York, particularly when a child prostitute attempts to run away in his taxi, only for her pimp to catch her (Scorsese, 1976). Travis also interacts with a passenger that describes wanting to kill his cheating wife. Convinced that he needs to do something about the crime he sees around him, Travis purchases firearms and formulates a plan to assassinate Palantine. Travis commits the assassination as he is scared off by secret service agents (Scorsese, 1976). Instead, he travels to the brothel where the underaged prostitute he met works previously and kills her pimp as well as others at the brothel. He is injured in the violence, but survives and is hailed as a hero.
Throughout Taxi Driver, Travis’ mental state can be seen as degrading. The film begins with a number of clues that Travis might not be entirely psychologically healthy. He is implied to be a Vietnam veteran, which is not an indicator of psychological damage. However, this can be a sign that he could have Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and may be more familiar with violence than the average person. Additionally, Travis suffers from insomnia, leading him to work primarily at night. Overall, Travis is not presented as explicitly mentally steady. It appears that the crime and “filth” he experiences every day as a taxi driver in New York is what slowly pushes him to the violence at the culmination of the film (Scorsese, 1976). Two events precede Travis’ breakdown and assassination plans, the encounter with the child prostitute and the passenger seeking to kill his cheating wife.
Subsequently, Travis has a breakdown and begins planning to kill Palantine. The encounter with the murder-planing man mirrors Travis’ later plan to kill Palantine. Both Travis and the man feel scorned by a woman who is associated with the target, both even have the same sort of gun, a.44 magnum (Scorsese, 1976). This event possibly planted the idea of violence in Travis’ mind, while his encounter with the child prostitute steered him towards what he might see as redemptive violence.
The change in Travis’ mental state is mirrored by gradual and rapid changes in his physical state. He begins working out, becoming physically developed. Travis undergoes various alterations by shaving his head into a mohawk, donning sunglasses, and wearing a tanker jacket (Scorsese, 1976). While Travis’ mental state was unstable, there was nothing to indicate an inevitable breakdown. It is worth noting that Travis was capable of working a steady job with only minor signs of PTSD. However, the crime he witnessed around him had a detrimental effect on his mental wellbeing in general. Additionally, the two encounters, with Iris and the man stand out as turning points in his eventual decline into violence. The final sequence concludes the narrative on a metaphorical and not a literal level. The audience sees the protagonist pursuing redemption rather than destruction. Travis is a part of a violent world, but he seeks to be forgiven and respected. Whether Travis earns that approval in reality or his mind is secondary, as, during the movie, his psychological state has formed his being and possibly brought harmony into his existence.
Coppola, F. (1979). Apocalypse Now [Film]. Omni Zoetrope.
Scorsese, M. (1976). Taxi Driver [Film]. Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.
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