August 20, 2011

At The End of the World, or why I love Apocalypse Now

People often ask me what's my favorite movie.  I used to say "Vertigo", Hitchcock's hypnotic masterpiece on unrequited love, obsession, and madness.  Makes sense for a teenager still trying to navigate his way through the the maze of frustrated romance while focused on unattainable, unrealistic female idols.

And then I saw Apocalypse Now.

I don't think it's any exaggeration to say that this movie literally changed my life.

But, to understand that, you have to understand who I was before that.  I joke with my friends that, if I'd been born bigger, I'd have probably been a bully.  A judgmental, moralistic, holier-than-thou bully.  The world was quite black and white to me at that age.  But, of course, how else could it be?  I didn't know anything.

I know young people get really frustrated when they hear older people talk about how much more they know than them and how far behind they are.  They think that the older folks have forgotten what it's like to be young.  The truth of the matter is, we remember it, quite vividly.  We relive those moments every day, looking into the mirror and wondering why what's staring back at us doesn't match what we imagine.

My mother jokes that she believes that time is actually moving faster now because, in her words, "these rascals have messed with the universe."  But the fact of the matter is, a year seems much more fleeting when you've had nearly 70 of them like Mom has.  When you've only had 16 of them, a year seems like a precious eternity.

But I digress.  I thought I knew it all.

What Apocalypse Now showed me was that, out in the jungle, away from the catered safety of a general's trailer where you can issue edicts without mud on your boots, the world is not binary.

It's very, very, messily analogue, where the difference between right and wrong isn't a cliff, but a sloping continuum.

It's funny, because the emotional journey of that movie mirrored my intellectual journey during college and much of my life thereafter.  I was sent off to learn and do extraordinary things, and suddenly turned around and realized that I had far less in common with the people in my home than the folks out here in the jungle with me.

Tree of Knowledge, maybe?

Like Capt. Willard says towards the end of the film: "They're going to give me a medal for this, and I wasn't even in their f'n army anymore."

My eyes opened.  And for that, I am eternally grateful.  It took some old parts of me, but brought back so much more.

Thank you Francis, and John, and Martin, and Marlon.