This section, which might be called the “Prelude to Kurtz,” is made up of three smaller scenes:
The Dennis Hopper character walks Willard into the compound, where he sees Colby, the original assassin. Hopper was initially cast to play Colby, but given his condition, Coppola quickly figured out that he would not be convincing as a soldier. The part of Colby went instead to Scott Glenn, who in the released version of Apocalypse Now doesn’t even have a line. Deleted scenes in The Complete Dossier reveal that at one stage his role was quite a bit larger, including a scene where Colby kills the photojournalist and is in turn killed by Willard. As it is, he is more of an apparition than a character, but he does linger in the mind quite effectively.
There’s some great Dennis Hopper here, where he tries to explain in his semi-coherent way why, despite the evidence to the contrary all around them, Kurtz is not crazy.
The heads. You’re looking at the heads. I, uh…sometimes he goes too far. You know, he’s the first one to admit it!
There’s something touchingly childish in the way Chef subsequently asks to go back to the boat. “Be with Lance,” he says, sounding for all the world like Rain Man.
Back in the boat, Chef has a great little monologue:
I used to think if I died in an evil place then my soul wouldn’t make it to heaven. Well, fuck. I don’t care where it goes as long it ain’t here.
Then Willard tells Chef to “call in the airstrike” if anything happens to him. Originally Apocalypse Now was slated to end with the destruction of Kurtz’s compound, but although some spectacular footage of the set being blown up was filmed, it was not used in the movie. (In certain theatrical releases it was shown over the end credits, creating great confusion for some viewers, this one included.)
As Willard walks through the pouring rain, musing on the madness he sees around him, he is slowly and stealthily surrounded by Kurtz’s men, who turn him upside-down and drag him away through the mud. No matter how many times I see this, it gives me the creeps. There’s just something about the way it happens, with the slow inevitability of a boa constrictor. And perhaps the creepiest thing about it is Lance, who stands on the periphery grinning as if this were all a big game. Which perhaps it is?