I recently saw Apocalypse Now for the first time. Setting aside the fact that I am a few decades late to the show, this was an enlightening moment for me. See, several men that I have either dated or wanted to date over the years have expressed that this was their favorite movie. Being incredibly stubborn and refusing to bend to the will of them or patriarchy (at least not on this point) I have steadfastly refused to see the movie. I have a similar stance on the Star Wars films, but that’s more to do with my general refusal to not jump on bandwagons.
Apocalypse Now, for those who like me are newbies to the film, is about the Vietnam War. A disillusioned, and clearly PTSD suffering, American solider is tasked with a secret mission to go into the jungle and kill a Commander who is believed to have gone rogue. The Commander might also be a bit crazy, but given the amount of talking to himself that the American soldier at the centre of the film does, this is really a relative concept.
The American Soldier, played by a young Michael Sheen, embarks on this quest. 2 and some hours later – this is about a 3 hour long film if you watch the remastered version, which I did because I clearly have issues – he finds the Commander and kills him, I think. To be honest I spaced out after awhile. There was some wine involved and I was clothes shopping online.
What did capture my attention though was how grossly and overtly hyper-masculine this film was. Film watchers might find themselves sprouting exceptional beards and deep raspy voices, perhaps with a sudden affection for woodworking and other DIY projects. Basically this thing is so masculine that testosterone practically grips from the screen.
Which therein lays my issue. This hyper-masculinity is not only disgusting, but the message it sends to men is that they only way to be a man is though overtly (and completely hetero-normative) ridiculous acts, like embarking into the jungle, engaging in some sexy time with the locals and fighting. It suggests that ‘real’ men head into trouble for no other damn reason than because they can. It suggests a fool-hardy approach to life that is more likely to result in death than anything resembling happiness or real joy.
Movies like this imply that there is only one (hetero) type of men. Sensitivity and empathy be damned, real men put a bullet into things/people instead of crying. Also, addressing mental health issues (see PTSD concern above) is unmanly. Suck it up and, better yet, go get sucked off. That’ll make everything feel much better.
This impression not only hurts women, as it teaches an approach that views women as objects instead of people, but ultimately harms men in the long run too. It’s just really bad and un-nuanced all around.
You can tell me that this movie is a product of its time. That is certainly true. And yes, you can also tell me that the Vietnam War is not exactly a situation in which you’ll see a lot of soldiers sitting around talking about how war has affected them and whether they should see a shrink. Maybe some men did that, but I doubt millions of people would still be watching it 37 year later, which is a shame because I think that would have made for a far more interesting movie.
The thing is that all of those arguments fail in light of the fact that this remains the favorite movie of more men than I care to admit knowing. These men also portray many of the characteristics that I find alarming in the film – in particular a callous regard for the emotions of others as they head hell-bent into their self-made destruction. I’d prefer that we not stop to consider what this says about my general taste in men.
In conclusion, my favorite smell in the morning is NOT napalm. It is however the smell of coffee and lavender, in case anyone is wondering.