Captain Willards Personal Journey
What is at stake?
The main character’s own sanity hangs by a very thin thread. Just a small push in the wrong direction will most likely send him reeling into complete madness.
Who is the central character?
The main character, Army Captain Benjamin Willard, played by Charlie Sheen, is a character that lives for the excitement of battle. He cannot escape the thrill battle gives him and feels bored and helpless when not engaged in combat. He is teetering on the brink of insanity with no help in sight.
The main character loves the excitement he feels in the midst of battle. His wife has left him and he has witnessed the deaths of many of his battle buddies in the Vietnam War. Yet, despite this, he cannot escape the thrill and excitement he experiences when he is immersed in the violence of battle.
Describe this character’s personal journey.
In the beginning of the movie, we see Captain Willard lying on a dirty bed in a sleazy hotel in Saigon. We hear a voice in the background. It is the voice of Capt. Willard’s self-conscience letting us inside his personal thoughts. He is impatiently waiting for his next mission. He feels weaker the longer he stays away from battle and asserts that he feels stronger when he is in the jungle, fighting.
We first catch a glimpse into his madness when he begins a crazy dance inside his dirty room. He punches the mirror in the room and his hand begins to bleed. He rubs the blood all over his face and naked body. This is the personal reflection of what he envisions himself to be: a blood covered killer. He is slipping into madness.
Two army soldiers knock on his door and he is told that he is being offered a very special mission. He finally has a mission.
Capt. Willard is briefed about his mission. He is to locate and “terminate with extreme prejudice” a former highly decorated war officer who has went AWOL and has seemingly slipped into complete madness. His name is Col. Walter Kurtz (played by Marlon Brando). Col. Kurtz has appointed himself as a god-like figure to a Vietnamese tribe. He recently commanded the tribe to assonate some very important Vietnam intelligence officers. The United States is fearful of what might happen if Col. Kurtz were to be captured and tortured for the intelligence information he knows.
Capt. Willard accepts the mission under anonymity and understands that, if he is caught, the mission he is on does not exist. In his own mind, Willard questions the charges against Col. Kurtz and the mission at hand. After all, it was wartime, so why would the military be so focused on killing this highly decorated Colonel? He reassures himself by telling himself that it is not his place to question. Willard sets out for his target into the deepest parts of the war-torn jungle.
Capt. Willard first travels by helicopter and then by boat. He is introduced to the boats crew, fellow soldiers whom he describes as “just kids and rock-and-rollers with one foot in the grave.”The boat captain, Chief Phillips, tells Capt. Willard that the last person, who was sent on the mission six months prior, was rumored to have shot himself in the head. Willard ponders this story as he flips through the military dossier on Kurtz.
At the rendezvous point, a beach head transformed into a make-shift landing zone, Capt. Willard is escorted to meet Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore (played by Robert Duvall), also known by his troops as Wild Bill. Wild Bill is on the warpath to clear the Vietnamese villages surrounding the beach front so that he and his men can surf freely without fear of being killed.
The beach front has become the military landing zone. It is covered in wounded soldiers, village survivors and other soldiers running preparing for another attack on a nearby village.
Later that evening, Wild Bill had transformed the noisy and littered beach landing zone into a beach party scene so as to appear more like home for the soldiers. The soldiers are drinking and carrying on.
At dawn, the beach is, once again, the center of action and Wild Bill is intent on leveling the surrounding area with napalm. He confides in Willard that he “loves the smell of napalm in the morning.”
Willard, again, questions the story behind his mission. He wonders if Wild Bill is able to get away with his madness, what has made the military want a person like Kurtz killed? Willard returns to the boat that transported him to the beach head and continues his journey up river.
Willard continued to read through the dossier given to him on Col. Kurtz. He was beginning to admire the man for the way he moved up the ranks of the Green Beret and the bravery Kurtz had displayed in numerous combat situations.
Willard and his crew suspect a passing boat to be delivering supplies to the Vietcong and Chief Phillips boards to search the boat while the other men stay aboard the boat, weapons loaded and drawn. Capt. Phillips eyes a yellow container that he quickly moves to inspect. A young girl moves towards Phillips and gun fire erupts.
Everyone on board the boat is killed with the exception of the young girl. The boat is searched but no weapons are found. The yellow can contained a small puppy that the young girl was attempting to protect. Phillips insists on taking the wounded young girl to a nearby village for treatment but Willard steps up and shoots the girl in the head, killing her instantly. He is intent on continuing the mission with no distractions. The crew does not look at Willard in the same way.
The boat crew passes through a night-time battle. The firefight lights up the night sky. Willard is given a packet with updated information on Kurtz. Willard leaves the boat with a fellow passenger and attempts to locate a commanding officer before meeting up with the boat crew on the other side of a bridge that is being attacked.
Willard meets up with the boat crew and begins to read the information he was handed. He learns that the previous soldier assigned to kill Kurtz was suspected to have joined Kurtz and the story of the soldier’s death was faked. Willard tears up and discards the dossier he has on Kurtz.
Willard and his boat crew finally manage to make it to Kurtz encampment. They are greeted by a crazed photojournalist and taken around the camp as if on a tour of Disneyland. Bodies of the dead are littered along the camp. The journalist explains that the Colonel is not insane but can go too far. One of the crew member talks Willard into letting him and the crew return to the boat. He tells the crew member that if he does not return, to call in an air strike and provides them the classified code to do so.
One of the crew members decides to stay with Willard and they are led further up river into the jungle to meet with Kurtz. The trip is very revealing to Willard as he walks through endless bodies and comes to the conclusion that Kurtz really has lost his mind.
Willard is finally taken to Kurtz, who is boasting a bald. Kurtz questions Willard about his past in a host-guest fashion. Willard tells Kurtz about his past. Kurtz then tells Willard that he knows the reason he is there and asks Willard to explain why he accepted the mission to kill him and why the command wishes him dead?
The next morning, Willard wakes up to find himself imprisoned. He is kept prisoner for a few days when he realizes just how crazy Kurtz is as he tosses the severed head of one of the boat crew members into Willard’s lap. Shortly after, Willard is released. He is kept alive by his captor for some unknown reason.
Then Willard is struck with an epiphany. Kurtz wishes to die. He does not want to die as a fugitive but wishes to die fighting and not while he sleeps in the darkness. He felt that Willard could kill him as a soldier, with honor and dignity. He allows Willard to escape and Willard successfully completes his mission. “He would make the rank of Major for this killing,” he told himself.
The tribesmen bow at Willard’s feet as he sits at Kurtz’ desk briefly contemplating the idea of taking Kurtz’ place as leader of the tribe. He quickly shrugs off the idea and he and the remaining boat crewman head towards a boat to head back to civilization.
How is the character transformed?
Willard pulled himself out of the grasp of insanity by pursuing someone else who was even more insane than himself. Although he admired Col. Kurtz for his military genius, Willard knew, in the end, that Col. Kurtz’s actions were mad. He refused to travel down that same path.
What good reason does the character have not to act?
Willard, himself sinking into madness, could have easily acted as Kurtz had but he realized a greater strength in himself. If Willard had suffered any further psychosis, he could have easily been another Kurtz. As it was, Willard liked to think of himself as a great soldier and by following Kurtz’s lead; he realized he would never gain the status of being a great soldier that he so desperately desired.