War and humanity produce enduring narratives and themes, an example of a such theme is brutality, which captures both. Brutality refers to barbaric evil and is explored to extent in texts including Apocalypse Now and Mametz Wood.
Despite differing textual forms, both ‘Apocalypse Now’ and ‘Mametz Wood’ portray brutality as an inappropriate, ageless addiction and the medium for war. This idea is central in my visual representation. The representation depicts a gun – a metaphor for brutality- growing onto its handler. This represents brutality’s addictive nature. A bullet is shown leaving the gun, representing brutality as the medium for war similar to the relationship between guns and bullets.
Apocalypse Now – released in 1979 – was directed by Francis Ford Coppola. It takes place in 1969, during the Vietnam War. The film follows the brutal journey of a military captain (played by Martin Sheen) through Vietnam and Cambodia to find a missing Colonel.
Mametz Wood is a poem composed Owen Sheers, released in 2005. It references the 1916 battle of Somme which was part of World War 1. It was a brutal battle, seeing over 24 000 English and Welsh soldiers die fighting the Germans. It portrays the long-term effects of brutality.
A mentionable point in Apocalypse Now is; where the film lacks factual evidence and accuracy relative to the war, it makes up for through the portrayal of psychological effects on soldiers.
The film opens with an aerial shot of a jungle. There is no visible activity beside streams of smoke and distant helicopters. This portrays underlying threat and creates anticipation amongst audiences. Suddenly, the frame is set ablaze. The excessiveness overwhelming viewers, the transition highlights the lack of provocation. Furthermore, this attack is never given context, conveying the overall irrelevance of violence, detaching it from meaning.
This scene demonstrates the preoccupation with destruction outweighing military obligation, portraying the napalming as nothing more than excessive military brutality. Excessive that it breaks traditional systems of order, rationality and restraint, trading them for unbridled chaos. The scene conveys the addiction to violence present in war.
The central idea being conveyed is war is similar to addiction, that soldiers cannot escape. In a later scene, martin sheen’s character – Willard is superimposed to the opening shot, as a dynamic aspect of the scene. The burning landscape and helicopters move through his head. This scene caught me off-guard, it implied that even subconsciously, soldiers fantasise about violence due to their brutal experiences. We are then shown a contrasting fantasy, where Willard fantasises about civilian life. The camera then shifts to focus on items of addiction. Including cigarettes, alcohol and almost inappropriately – a pistol. This furthers the idea of war as an addiction which actually doesn’t relate to patriotism or objective.
Coppola then disorientated me again by superimposing Sheen beside a fan. The fan evoked images of helicopters in my mind but lacked context. This continues for some time, implying that the blades are symbols of a repetitive, self-perpetuating cycle of brutality. The military machine is addicted to war, like soldiers themselves. This sequence can also be interpreted to reference a soldiers’ downward mental cycle.
The idea of a dysfunctional war machine is furthered through a scene depicting a helicopter attack. The movie is integrated with its soundtrack through the helicopter’s speakers which play ‘Ride of the Valkyries”. In this scene, the helicopter’s captain is responsible for orchestrating the display of power. The soundtrack links the scene with Norse mythology, as Valkyries are Nordic gods controlling death in battle. Facial close-ups are shown, highlighting the satisfaction of soldiers during this pure brutality.
In Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, both the opening and helicopter attack scenes portray addictive brutality as causing military power to go mad.
Mametz Wood begins as if in the middle of a story, this immediately stimulates interest. The first stanza depicts farmers finding soldiers for years after battle. Through this, Sheers highlights the futility of war and its long-term effects on nature. The second stanza mentions a china plate and bird’s egg. This is done to convey life’s fragility when against brutal machines.
The third stanza includes the line “the nesting machine guns” this links contrasting ideas, of delicate birds from previous with guns that take life. This also represents how artillery replaced nature during war. This further exemplifies the effects of war brutality on nature.
The following stanza reads “the earth reaching back into itself for reminders of what happened, like a wound working a foreign body to the surface of the skin”. The references to wounds and foreign bodies are appropriate, as soldiers died to brutal wounds and various pathogens. The word foreign is significant as it describes the soldiers fighting in foreign lands and wounds resulting from foreign objects.
The fifth and sixth stanzas reference death. Many dead belonging to this battle were not found for years after the war. “A broken mosaic of bone linked arm in arm” conveys the artistic distribution of shattered bones of the brutally killed. The line “mid dance macabre” demonstrates an idea of the premature closing of lives, how soldiers were stopped during celebration. The rest of the stanza has graphic visual imagery. The lines “their socketed heads tilted back at an angle and their jaws, those who have them, dropped open” convey gory images. Sheers also discusses the effects of war brutality being visible even after the bearers of scars have gone.
Sheers highlighted that land and soldiers, were brutalized by war, and the fact that their remains have lain there for years, undisturbed shows war’s timelessness. The timelessness of war has been portrayed in my representation. The background depicts different eras of war. The portrayal of war and brutality is common through them all, symbolising their consistency regardless of period.
Although the texts have varying contexts, they maintain similar stances on brutality in the atmosphere of war. However, the manner of portrayal differs. Coppola opts to portray brutality purely as an addiction, causing war. Whereas Sheers discusses it through its long-term effects. Brutality – as portrayed by these texts is an addiction. One that lasts longer than those inflicting it. One which reappears throughout history and scars humanity beyond warrant. One which is the medium for war itself.