Behind The Article: Apocalypse Now in Cambodia

April 1, 2011 in British literature, Literary Movies, Pop Culture

Bayon Buffalo, Photo by Simon Glassock

In my house, my fiance must say “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” at least once a week.  It’s always referring to something guy-like, maybe not as guy-like as the infamous John Mayer quote, but it’s always in guy terms.  When writer Simon Glassock proposed his idea for an Apocalypse Now article, I knew I’d immediately have a male audience.  War movie, men hunting, men in their most primal state.

But after reading Glassock’s article, I realized there’s a lot more to Apocalypse Now (and Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness, which the movie was based on) then just being a “guy” film.  Glassock details the history of the film, including Marlon Brando’s diva-like behavior and Francis Ford Coppola’s struggles on set.  Glassock also discusses the infamous water buffalo sacrifice scene and where the idea originated.

Literary Traveler: You write about the history of Apocalypse Now.  But when you were in the Cambodian jungle, what was your visceral experience?

Simon Glassock: Being in a jungle, or in any wild place, makes me feel pleasantly empty and inconsequential. I say ‘pleasantly’ because it is not a negative sensation. I find being reminded that the natural world is oblivious to us quite refreshing and the jungle-encroached ruins of past civilisations such as those at Angkor are a striking example how small and transient we really are.

LT: Why do you think Apocalypse Now resonates with a male audience (more so than with a female audience)?

SG: I hadn’t thought about the film specifically in gender terms but now that you prompt me I think it may partly be because there are no females in it. Apocalypse Now shows how a flawed man can be the agent of his own redemption. It also presents a homosocial (not homosexual) world in which men form relationships that can be, are permitted to be,  perhaps because of the proximity of death, close and intimate in a way that men seldom experience. War films often suggest a sense of belonging, purpose and even moral growth which can elude men in civilian society.

LT: Do you think with current animal rights restrictions, would the water buffalo scene still have been done if filmed today?

SG: It is worth reiterating that the water buffalo sacrifice was a cultural event that was recorded and incorporated in the film rather than a scripted scene. I strongly suspect that liberal intolerance of substantive difference and the threat of real violence from some quarters would prevent the scene from being included today. Respect for diversity and multi-culturalism, anyone?

Please continue reading Apocalypse Now, A Film History & the Sacrificial Water Buffalo.

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