“French Girl – Do you know why you can never step into the same river twice?
Willard – Yeah, ’cause it’s always moving.” – Apocalypse Now
Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” can be interpreted as a modern update on Homer’s “Odyssey.” Both involve journeys of a protagonist on a body of water. The river takes Willard deeper and deeper into an external and internal conflict without his control and changes him in deep ways. Likewise, the Mediterranean does the same for Odysseus. On both of their journeys, they meet an array of colorful characters who alter their path.
Kilgore is the Cyclops that must be tricked, the Playboy bunnies are like the Sirens
Willard’s boat is named The Erebus – a Greek God, the son of Chaos, Erebus is shadow and married his sister Nyx the Goddess of the Night. (HEART OF DARKNESS??) Erebus is connected with Hades, the underworld. Hades was believed by some to be only accessible by boat.
When Willard reached Kurtz’s hideout, did he reach his Hades? It was a place of darkness.
What is interesting about the connection between these two texts is the motif of Home. Odysseus is on his way home from war, constantly trying to reach his family after 20 years abroad. Willard has fought already, then went home, only to become dissatisfied with what he found there. He returned to Saigon and got a divorce.
“Someday this war’s gonna end. That would be just fine
with the boys on the boat. They weren’t looking for
anything more than a way home. Trouble is, I’ve been
back there, and I knew that it just didn’t exist anymore.” – Apocalypse Now
Maybe there is no such thing as home, now that the Heart of Darkness has been discovered. Coppola might be saying that one cannot feel comfort or a sense of purpose in this Modernist/Post-modernist world. Unlike Odysseus, we have no place to return; the river has already moved on.
Further reference: “Ulysses” by Lord Tennyson