Apocalypse Now: The Personification of War
The video essay has proven to be a great format to investigate one’s own filmic fascinations and what fomented and fostered them. Projects such as Once Upon A Screen have prompted dozens of video essay makers to delve into the origins of their cinematic preferences in often very personal ways. Film student Milan Moody uses a comparable strategy in this video essay to find out just what has always drawn him to Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now.
Taking advantage of the essayistic mode, Moody’s video starts from a personal observation rather than from a rigid academic query. Why does this particular Vietnam war movie resonate with him, even though he’s never even been close to a comparable conflict? Moody decides to focus on the three protagonists of the movie and he uses a detailed character study to try to define their macabre appeal. He employs a tried and tested tactic: he uses the three types of war suggested by sociologist Hans Speier as the theoretical framework to interpret each of the movie’s three main characters. It is an effective approach that allows Moody to get a basic grip on how Coppola has translated ideological and moral stances into character development.
This video essay went through several different iterations (it was made for a course in Audiovisual Criticism at LUCA School of Arts). It started off as a more conventional piece with voice over narration. But that form didn’t allow Moody to fully engage with the film, certainly not on an affective level. He changed course completely and ended up dramatizing his own investigation and his own struggles during it. In a setting that is a cross between the office of a private eye and that of a school professor, he explicitly addresses the viewer and candidly lays out his thinking. The real stroke of genius comes halfway through the video essay (around the eleven minute mark). In an inspired sequence Moody visualizes the investigative stalemate he finds himself in. He restages shots from the movie, visually echoing the despair of Martin Sheen’s character and thus adapting it as his own. Like Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now, Moody finds himself in an impasse (of a totally different kind, granted). Like Apocalypse Now, this video essay doesn’t shy away from that clueless standstill but gives it room to breathe and incorporates it into the very fabric of the piece. The result is a video essay that doesn’t just try to understand the movie it studies, but actively adopts its poetics to unlock its appeal.