Francis Ford Coppola: ‘Apocalypse Now is not anti-war’

Francis Ford Coppola has denied Apocalypse Now is an anti-war film, as he acknowledged it celebrates the horrors of conflict.
Speaking to The Guardian to mark the iconic Vietnam War movie’s 40th anniversary, the legendary director said he meant its message to be ambiguous – as sequences in it, such as the famous napalm helicopter airstrike scene, glorify rather than condemn violence.
“No one wants to make a pro-war film, everyone wants to make an anti-war film,” he explains. “But an anti-war film, I always thought, should be like (Kon Ichikawa’s 1956 post-World War II drama) The Burmese Harp – something filled with love and peace and tranquillity and happiness.
“It shouldn’t have sequences of violence that inspire a lust for violence. Apocalypse Now has stirring scenes of helicopters attacking innocent people. That’s not anti-war.”
The movie is often seen as having an anti-war message, as its basis is Joseph Conrad’s anti-imperialist novel Heart of Darkness and its lead character Captain Benjamin L. Willard comes close to madness due to the horrors he finds in Vietnam.
However, documenting the terrors of war is not what Coppola thinks of as making an anti-war film – as he believes a film promoting peace should celebrate the joy of a peaceful life.
“I always thought the perfect anti-war film would be a story in Iraq about a family who were going to have their daughter be married, and different relatives were going to come to the wedding,” the 80-year-old filmmaker muses. “The people manage to come, maybe there’d be some dangers, but no one would get blown up, nobody would get hurt. They would dance at the wedding. That would be an anti-war film.
“An anti-war film cannot glorify war, and Apocalypse Now arguably does. Certain sequences have been used to rev up people to be warlike.”