The lovely light…

31 08 2008

The Ahab-Barnes reference:
Moby Dick CHAPTER 37: Sunset

This is the whole piece mentioned HERE

(…) The diver sun- slow dived from noon- goes down; my soul mounts up! she wearies with her endless hill. Is, then, the crown too heavy that I wear? this Iron Crown of Lombardy. Yet is it bright with many a gem; I the wearer, see no tits far flashings; but darkly feel that I wear that, that dazzlingly confounds. ‘Tis iron- that I know- not gold. ‘Tis split, too- that I feel; the jagged edge galls me so, my brain seems to beat against the solid metal; aye, steel skull, mine; the sort that needs no helmet in the most brain-battering fight! Dry heat upon my brow? Oh! time was, when as the sunrise nobly spurred me, so the sunset soothed. No more. This lovely light, it lights not me; all loveliness is anguish to me, since I can ne’er enjoy. Gifted with the high perception, I lack the low, enjoying power; damned, most subtly and most malignantly! damned in the midst of Paradise! Good night-good night! (waving his hand, he moves from the window.)  ‘Twas not so hard a task. I thought to find one stubborn, at the least; but my one cogged circle fits into all their various wheels, and they revolve. Or, if you will, like so many ant-hills of powder, they all stand before me; and I their match. Oh, hard! that to fire others, the match itself must needs be wasting! What I’ve dared, I’ve willed; and what I’ve willed, I’ll do! They think me mad-Starbuck does; but I’m demoniac, I am madness maddened! That wild madness that’s only calm to comprehend itself! The prophecy was that I should be dismembered; and- Aye! I lost this leg. I now prophesy that I will dismember my dismemberer. Now, then, be the prophet and the fulfiller one. That’s more than ye, ye great gods, ever were. I laugh and hoot at ye, ye cricket-players, ye pugilists, ye deaf Burke sand blinded Bendigoes! I will not say as schoolboys do to bullies-Take some one of your own size; don’t pommel me! No, ye’ve knocked me down, and I am up again; but ye have run and hidden. Come forth from behind your cotton bags! I have no long gun to reach ye. Come, Ahab’s compliments to ye; come and see if ye can swerve me. Swerve me? ye cannot swerve me, else ye swerve yourselves! man has ye there. Swerve me? The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run. Over unsounded gorges, through the rifled hearts of mountains, under torrents’ beds, unerringly I rush! Naught’s an obstacle, naught’s an angle to the iron way!

ARCHIVE FILE | Moby Dick Parallels

27 08 2008

No, I’m not able to post any kind of high level comparison of Platoon and Moby Dick. I’ve read the book long ago and hated it (sorry!), I don’t think I’ll read it again. Actually, I would be happy if anyone having the needed skills had done it before. But, surprisingly, it seems that nobody did. Even renowned journalists and reviewers seem to overlook the parallels that literally jumped at me while reading the book. In all reviews/articles I’ve read (and there are plenty of them, at least those which are free available) the novel is only seldom mentioned, and that in a very general manner. 

In the movie Chris calls Barnes “our captain Ahab-the eye of our rage” and it surely makes sense. Both characters are completely possessed by revenge, in Moby Dick it’s much more evident and clearly stated, in Platoon the hints were edited and can be found only in the script and the novelisation of it. You just have to replace the White Whale by Vietcong, both are shown as almost blind nature forces.

Even if there is a character in Moby Dick with the name Elijah: a strange beggar prophesying the ill fate of Pequod (see also the post about Biblical parallels). He says: 

Oh! when ye get there, tell ‘em I’ve concluded not to make one of ‘em.

…and it is the only thing the movie Elias could say. If I remember right, if there was a substitute of Elias in Moby Dick, it was Starbuck, someone who saw the madness of Ahab’s hunt and didn’t want to participate in it, but had not much choice “being in the same boat.”

Another similarity of both stories is the character of Ishmael, someone who survived the apocalyptic confrontation to tell us the story. Stone does compare himself to Ishmael in some of the interviews.


The examples below are surely not all, I made some notes in 1988 when I read the book, not all of them survived the time.

Reading Moby Dick I was surprised how much Barnes actually is Ahab, and how much the way Ishmael sees the captain, resembled the way I (and probably Chris/Oliver Stone) saw sgt. Barnes from the very beginning. It started with the mere description of the character’s face:

Threading its way out from among his grey hairs, and continuing right down one side of his tawny scorched face and neck, till it disappeared in his clothing, you saw a slender rod-like mark, lividly whitish. 

So there is a scar on Ahab’s face even if I cannot recall an explanation about what caused it. 


This is what I saw in the “I am reality scene”.

(…)moody stricken Ahab stood before them with a crucifixion in his face; in all the nameless regal overbearing dignity of some mighty woe.  


Another fragment that could be easily applied to sgt. Barnes.

(…) you must jump when he gives an order. Step and growl; growl and go – that’s the word with Captain Ahab. But nothing about that thing that happened to him off Cape Horn, long ago, when he lay like dead for three days and nights; nothing about that deadly skrimmage with the Spaniard afore the altar in Santa? – heard nothing about that, eh?


Captain Peleg’s description of Ahab echoes a little bit of what Rhah says about Barnes through the movie: 

I know Captain Ahab well; I’ve sailed with him as mate years ago; know what he is – a good man – not a pious, good man, like Bildad, but a swearing good man – something like me – only there’s a good deal more of him. Aye, aye, I know thathe was never very jolly; and I know that on the passage home he was a little out of his mind for a spell; but it was the sharp shooting pains in his bleeding stump that brought that about, as any one might see. I know, too, that ever since he lost his leg last voyage by that accursed whale, he’s been a kind of moody- desperate moody, and savage sometimes; but that will all pass off. And once for all, let me tell thee and assure thee, young man, it’s better to sail with a moody good captain than a laughing bad one. (…)

(…) be your boast, Stubb, that ye were kicked by old Ahab, and made a wise man of. Remember what I say; be kicked by him; account his kicks honors; and on no account kick back; for you can’t help yourself, wise Stubb.


I didn’t know the script back in 1988, so the part about Barnes marrying the Japanese woman was a surprise. The “wicked name” is surely an allusion to the biblical king Ahab:

So good-bye to thee – and wrong not Captain Ahab, because he happens to have a wicked name. Besides, my boy, he has a wife – not three voyages wedded – a sweet, resigned girl. Think of that; by that sweet girl that old man had a child…


And this was what I felt about Barnes, against the common opinion.

… hold ye then there can be any utter, hopeless harm in Ahab? No, no, my lad; stricken, blasted, if he be, Ahab has his humanities! (…)

As I walked away, I was full of thoughtfulness; what had been incidentally revealed to me of Captain Ahab, filled me with acertain wild vagueness of painfulness concerning him. And somehow, at the time, I felt a sympathy and a sorrow for him, but for I don’t know what, unless it was the cruel loss of his leg. And yet I also felt a strange awe of him; but that sort of awe, which I cannot at all describe, was not exactly awe; I do not know what it was. But I felt it; and it did not disincline me towards him; though I felt impatience at what seemed like mystery in him, so imperfectly as he was known to me then.


This sounds so much like “the only thing that can kill Barnes is Barnes” 

Thou hast outraged, not insulted me, sir; but for that I ask thee not to beware of Starbuck; thou wouldst but laugh; but let Ahab beware of Ahab; beware of thyself, old man.


And this one sounded like the essence of what the soldiers felt entering the village, the moment when Ahab’s name is mentioned in Platoon:

Judge, then, to what pitches of inflamed, distracted fury theminds of his more desperate hunters were impelled, when amid the chipsof chewed boats, and the sinking limbs of torn comrades, they swam out of the white curds of the whale’s direful wrath into the serene, exasperating sunlight, that smiled on, as if at a birth or a bridal.  



Those two essays dealing with Ahab have some interesting points

Ahab as a Blasphemous Figure

A major assumption that runs through Moby Dick is that Ahab’s quest against the great whale is a blasphemous activity, even apart from the consequences that it has upon its crew. This blasphemy takes two major forms: the first type of blasphemy to prevail within Ahab is hubris, the idea that Ahab thinks himself the equal of God. The second type of blasphemy is a rejection of God altogether for an alliance with the devil. Melville makes this point explicit during various episodes of the novel, such as the instance in which Gabriel warns Ahab to “think of the blasphemer’s end” (Chapter 71: The Jeroboam’s Story) and the appraisal of Ahab from Peleg in which he designates him as an ungodly man (Chapter 16: The Ship).

The idea that Ahab’s quest for Moby Dick is an act of defiance toward God assuming that Ahab is omnipotent first occurs before Ahab is even introduced during Father Mapple’s sermon. The lesson of the sermon, which concerns the story of Jonah and the whale, is to warn against the blasphemous idea that a ship can carry a man into regions where God does not reign. Ahab parallels this idea when he compares himself to God as the lord over the Pequod (Chapter 109: Ahab and Starbuck in the Cabin). Melville furthers this idea through the prophetic dream that Fedallah tells Ahab that causes Ahab to conclude that he is immortal.

In a way Barnes also sees himself as a God of at least his platoon, it is “his war”, his world where he seems to have the absolute power, and destroys Elias who challenges this power.


The Attack on Transcendentalism, by Keegan Lerch

Moby Dick and Captain Ahab both refute the Transcendentalist principle that there is no evil, there is only love. The Transcendentalists feel that the world is filled with goodness, however, the Anti-Transcendentalists believe in the more reasonable idea that man has the potential to be either good or bad. Moby Dick is portrayed as evil in the story as Ahab tells of how he lost his leg to the white behemoth. After Ahab loses his leg to the white whale he Creates himself as the “race-hero”; moving against the presence of evil, Ahab vows to kill the source of evil: Moby Dick. (Stern, 74) Ahab, therefore, unconscientiously casts his own evil onto Moby Dick. The whale also personifies the evil that exisists within Ahab. The evil Ahab possesses is the result of his obsession with extinguishing the evil in the whale. The very evil that exists in Ahab is that which the transcendentalists deem to be non-existent. Melville is therefore striking heavily upon the ideals of the Transcendentalists.

… and it somehow reminds me of what albert_frey2 wrote at IMDB about Barnes Messias complex (read the post). It is arguable if you can see Vietcong as a force of evil, but if you were a GI in the jungle, they surely could be perceived as such.  


Here are some links about the story that inspired Melville to write Moby Dick: In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick

Sidetracks: FMJ — Gustav Hasford’s Website

23 08 2008

This is something I wanted to post a while ago already. It’s not only interesting because of the behind-the-scenes stuff about FMJ, but also because of the stories about the “real” people behind FMJ’s characters, you will find them scattered all around the place. There is a picture of Mike Stokey, mentioned before who worked on Tropic Thunder.  There is a not so flattering opinion on Short-Timers by Oliver Stone. There are also some pictures of Dale Dye who was in the same correspondent group called “Snuffies” with Hasvord. Michael Herr, who cowrote FMJ wrote also some texts for the website. I suspect that the link between Dye and Herr is more than just this short quote from Dispatches:

QUOTE: ….There was a young Marine correspondent, Sergeant Dale Dye, who sat with a tall yellow flower sticking out of his helmet cover, a really outstanding target. He was rolling his eyes around saying “Oh, yes, oh yes, Charlie’s got his **** together here, this will be BAD,” and smiling happily. It was the same smile I saw a week later when a sniper’s bullet tore up a wall two inches above his head, odd cause for amusement in anyone but a grunt.

I still have to read through all that stuff, also through “Short Timers” text available online from the site. Jeez, I need 60 hours days, second pair of eyes and some damn extension allowing my brain to process the information at a satisfying speed. To do list grows faster than done list..

I wished there was a similar website with Platoon background… 

Full Metal Jacket at

Sidetracks: Willard’s scar in Apocalypse Now

17 08 2008

Talking about scars: There is something about Willard’s scar that puzzles me. First I thought the cut just happened to Martin Sheen on the set.

According to IMDB trivia section the shoot actually lasted 16 months, and the opening scene was shot as the last one. Now: if the cut was real, how could it last for over the year and heal as the movie progress from band aided, through a bloody scratch, to a scar?

Did they “included” the cut as it happened and adjusted the make-up so it fit the storyline?

BTW, maybe it’s the scar on Willard’s face that made me think of the opening scene as something that happens after he’d completed his mission? (reference)

ARCHIVE FILE | Elias/Jesus Parallels

17 08 2008

In the last version of the Platoon script the only direct reference to Elias as Jesus-like figure is a line from his death scene: “Elias crucified.” The other one could be Barnes calling him a water-walker. O’Neill’s remark from the movie: “he thinks he is a f***** Jesus Christ” replaced the original: “he thinks he’s Cochise or something” (in the original script Elias was an Indian).

One can surely see some “unwritten” parallels — aside from the Elias being considered a manifestation of goodness as opposed to “evil” Barnes: 

Elias is a rebel, working against established structures — Jesus with his new ideas was a troublemaker in Palestina. Both had devoted followers/disciples. Both are nearly the same age: script Elias is 23, but Dafoe was 32 in 1987 as the film was shot. 

The “beautiful night” scene could be seen as the night at Gethsemane. According to the voiceover, several days passed before Elias was shot. Jesus was captured next day, but in the night both seem to express a dark foreboding about the future and their own fate. 

If the night scene contained all the dialog that was written for it — we’d also have a kind of resurrection. Elias talks about coming back as a deer, and after the final battle Chris sees a deer in the jungle. 

Elias and Jesus both died because of betrayal. Barnes wasn’t Elias’ disciple, but still he was a fellow soldier.

For some reason, the first time I’ve read about the Jesus connection, I instantly recalled the verse from Isaiah, 53:2: “he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him”, which I found somehow fitting for the movie Elias (even if it surely doesn’t apply to the script version of the character) and “he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah, 53:4) which relates to Elias helping Chris with his overloaded backpack: “I’ll haul it for you”. The Bible resource

And of course there is the Last Temptation of Christ movie, with Dafoe playing Jesus and that “carrying cross” scene, which IMO is the weirdest parallel of all. I think those pictures say more than thousand words:

(The first picture is from the beginning of the movie, showing Jesus making crosses for the Romans)

If Temptation was made first, I would say Dafoe was purposely quoting it in Platoon. I still wonder if he could know in spring 1986 that he was considered for the part of Jesus. And could he know production details about the crucifixion? Temptation was shot in fall 1987 (source), but it was another project with very long forerun*, so IMO it’s theoretically possible. If it wasn’t the case, the serendipity is just mind boggling. (And I will forever regret I haven’t asked Dafoe about it having the chance) bang.gif image by alveni

Note: the way of carrying a “cross” as shown in the Jesus photo is (most probably) historically correct, but not necessarily iconic — it’s not what first comes to your mind when you think of “carrying a cross”, at least it wasn’t so in my part of the woods. What I thought about first was THIS.  I suspect it’s just the best way of carrying heavy loads, so the similarity is not necessarily intended. The allusion to Christ in that scene is IMO not alone the way of carrying the MG but that Elias carries it at all. He was a squad leader, nor a machine gunner: he carries that M60 for some of his inferiors, probably King. It’s another “I’ll haul it for you/carrying our sorrows” situation not required by the script. It’s not even logical as King was surely big enough to carry both the MG and Elias. 🙂

Ah, yes, one more detail from the death scene. If you look closer you can easily see that Dafoe has triggers in both hands (they were supposed to set off the explosives on his body, but didn’t work). When he stretches his arms toward the sky, the trigger in his right hand looks like a nail sticking out. (I wonder if this image could cause some subliminal reaction and that’s why people were thinking of him as a Jesus figure)


* The Last Temptation of Christ was a project which spent a long time in the drawer, was recast for several times and finally shot with very small budget because of the controversy surrounding the subject.

ARCHIVE FILE | Platoon/Apocalypse Now Parallels

17 08 2008

Family ties
Charile Sheen is Martin Sheen’s son, he actually was in the Phillipines as Apocalypse was shot and “worked” as an extra. There are some speculations if casting Charlie (or Emilio in the first run) in Platoon was the way Stone wanted to make a reference to Apocalypse.

The  Voiceover
Protagonists’ voiceover is used in both movies.

The Journey
Both movies describe the protagonist’s journey into the “heart of darkness”, and they end with a murder of a fellow soldier. During the trip Willard becomes more and more like Kurz, Taylor becomes Barnes – the “only one who can kill Barnes”. 

The Barnes/Kurtz parallel
Kurtz can be seen as more sophisticated, philosophical version of Barnes. They both faced horrors of war, they are sick of the hypocrisy of the politics and see the necessarity of extreme means in an extreme situation. Both are almost supernatural figures. Others see them as insane, but Kurtz’s madness (or is it rather the ultimate clarity?) is much more spectacular. Ironically, it was probably Kurz’s philosophical mind that broke him in the end, because — unlike Barnes — he couldn’t stop THINKING, seeing the bigger picture, he couldn’t turn on the autopilot and do what he was said. 
If Barnes was more articulate he could say these words instead of just stating “I am reality”:

“(…) You have no right to call me a murderer. You have a right to kill me. You have a right to do that… But you have no right to judge me. It’s impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror. Horror has a face… And you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not then they are enemies to be feared.” (…)

“They  train young men to drop fire on people. But their commanders won’t allow them to  write f*** on their airplanes because it’s obscene!”

“It’s judgment that defeats us”.

Both Kurz and Barnes actually have chosen a person to kill them. These lines would fit in Taylor’s voiceover, if there was any in the scene when he kills Barnes:

“Everybody wanted me to do it, him most of all. I felt like he was up there, waiting for me to take the pain away. He just wanted to go out like a soldier, standing up, not like some poor, wasted, rag-assed renegade.” 

Rhah and the Photographer
I can also see some likeness between Rhah and the photographer in Apocalypse, they both preach about love and hate… each of the characters is a kind of a crazy shaman. The Photographer can see the method behind Kurtz’s madness, as Rhah can see a method behind the tactics of Barnes. Even their clothes are somehow similar: both are wearing traditional (probably Montagnard-made) vests.

Literary sources
Platoon is based on Moby Dick (more about it soon) in the same way Apocalypse is based on Heart of Darkness.

The Location
Both movies were shot in the Phillippines, using local army help and equipment. US Army refused to cooperate.

Michael Herr
… cowrote Apocalypse, in his book Dispatches he quotes some graffitti form soldiers’ helmets and at least three of those grafitties appear on the helmets in Platoon.

Oh, yes, the scar
Taylor get his cheek cut by Barnes, Willard gets a scratch below his eye, almost at the same spot, as the Cavalry bombs the beach. Unlike Taylor’s, Willard’s scar has no significance at all. 

By accident the catholic priest saying the Mass in Apocalypse is credited as… Father Elias. Ah, well… 🙄


Actually it was all that I wanted to post here, but once you start googling… 

The Developing Process
First drafts of both movies were written in 1969. (see Break post) Both were thought to be accompanied by The Doors’ music. Both turned out to be something entirely different in the end. Coppola, like Stone was able to make Apocalypse after (and because of) a success of their previous movies (The Godfather and Midnight Express respective).

The project began with George Lucas’s plans to direct a script written by John Milius in 1969 entitled The Psychedelic Soldier, with Coppola as executive producer. Lucas had planned to shoot his film as a faux documentary on location in South Vietnam while the war was still underway. But a production deal with Warner Bros. fell through, and Coppola moved on to co-write and direct The Godfather (1972). The huge success of this Oscar®-winning film gave him the clout to reintroduce the idea of Apocalypse Now, which would be filmed by Coppola’s own American Zoetrope Studios for United Artists, on location in the Philippines. Source

The Real People and Events
In both movies at least some of the characters are based on real persons. 

Fred Rexer, from whom the Willard character was based, actually witnessed the incident in which children had their arms hacked off, as described by Kurtz in his monologue. (source) (Wikipedia on Fred Rexer)

The real-life model for the updated Kurtz was Col. Robert Rheault, a commanding officer of U.S. Special Forces in Vietnam who was court-martialed in 1969 for the murder of a Vietnamese guide he suspected of being a double agent. The charges against Rheault eventually were dropped, but his career had been ruined by what the press called “the Green Beret murder case.” Official documents had described the killing of the suspected agent as “termination with extreme prejudice” — a phrase repeated in the film. (source)

There are two possible models for Col. Kilgore: Lt. Col. John B. Stockton, squadron commander of the real 1st Squadron – 9th Cav of the First Cav Divison (source) (source) and Steve Kanaly, “a radioman in Col. Stockton’s outfit, was a mil. advisor on Apocalypse Now, and suggested the character to Milius when they met at a skeet shooting range” (source)

A Murder in Wartime (
In June 1969 a group of Green Beret officers, suspecting that one of their Vietnamese operatives was a double agent, executed him and dropped his weighted body into the ocean off Nha Trang. (…) In the end the Army dropped the charges, but the “Green Beret case” nevertheless had a significant effect on the conduct of the war: it provoked Daniel Ellsberg to leak the Pentagon Papers.

There are scenes in both movies that actually happened, unbelievable as it is:

The scene [in Apocalypse] where Roach uses a grenade launcher to kill the NVA soldier in the wire during the scene at the Do Long bridge is taken directly from Dispatches
from IMDB


I bet there is more to be found.

Sidetracks: Apocalypse Again

14 08 2008

Writing another Archive File post about Platoon/Apocalypse Now parallells (coming soon) I needed some quotations so I looked for a transcript of Apocalypse 

Reading transcripts makes you pay attention to details which are easy to overlook while watching the movie. This time a line caught my attention: Willard: “Charging a man with murder in this place was like handing out speeding tickets in the Indy 500”. Sounds somehow familiar, doesn’t it? Ignorant as I am, I’ve always assumed that Bunny’s: “ain’t nothing like a piece of pussy cept maybe the Indie 500” is about a car model. But in Apocalypse it made no sense. Well, back to the roots… I mean, to Wikipedia: 

QUOTE: The Indianapolis 500-Mile Race, often shortened to Indianapolis 500 or Indy 500, and historically known simply as “The 500,” is an American automobile race, held annually over the Memorial Day weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana. 

Having the text I also looked closer at a little unclarity in Apocalypse’s narration. I’ve always had the impression that the first scene (Willard lying in bed in a hotel room) happens AFTER the mission, and the story is told in retrospection, although it’s hard to say where the retrospection starts. And there is indeed a break, even if it’s implied only by a grammatical change of the voiceover.

It starts with:

“Saigon, shit. I’m still only in Saigon. Every time I think I’m going to wake up back in the jungle. When I was home after my first tour, it was worse. I’d wake up and there’d be nothing…(…) I’ve been here a week now. Waiting for a mission, getting softer. Every minute I stay in this room I get weaker. And every minute Charlie squats in the bush he gets stronger. Each time I look around the walls move in a little tighter.” 

The “breaking the mirror” scene follows. With the two “messengers” appearing at Willard’s door, there is a sudden change of the POV. Willard turns from present into past and beginns to tell his story:

“Everyone gets everything he wants. I wanted a mission, and for my sins they gave me one. Brought it up to me like room service. It was a real choice mission, and when it was over, I’d never want another.” (the scene with the shower follows) “I was going to the worst place in the world, and I didn’t even know it yet. Weeks away and hundreds of miles up a river …”

The rest of the voiceover is written in the past tense. 

It almost looks like Willard who is still (again?) in Saigon recalls his whole mission. As if his story made a full loop and he ended exactly in the place he was starting from… I wonder if it was intentional or just a side effect of re-cutting the movie for the x-th time.

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