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"This is The End." Realism, Myth and Propaganda in the Vietnam War films Apocalypse Now, Platoon and The Green Berets


The ideology behind certain Vietnam War films is a fascinating subject, and often within these films are their directors’ very different agendas. This essay is meant to examine three very distinct Vietnam War films: The Green Berets, Platoon and Apocalypse Now Redux from the perspective of realism, mythology and propaganda.
First is the analysis of John Wayne’s The Green Berets, a film about a few well trained special operatives in the U.S. Army that are sent to Vietnam to help with the building of a South Vietnamese camp in a hostile territory. This chapter focuses on the lack of realism in the film and its blatant use of propaganda to try and win over the hearts and minds of the American public in a time of war.
The second main chapter is an analysis of Oliver Stone’s Platoon. Stone himself served in Vietnam and his vision was to make a film that gave an accurate account of the life of the infantry grunt in the Vietnam War. In this chapter Stone’s interpretation of realism comes under close scrutiny.
The third and final main chapter is a close study of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now Redux, the mythology of the characters and the film’s atmosphere. The link between Apocalypse Now and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is an integral part of this section of the essay whereas the message of anti-imperialism resonates in both works.
Finally, I conclude that the elements of realism, mythology and entertainment value are all integral parts of the creation of war films. Realism is necessary to give the viewer a brief look at the horrific experiences of combat. Mythology creates the larger-than-life heroes we want to see because they make us believe in ourselfves and our ability to overcome obstacles. The creation of mythology can also lead us down a road of untruthfulness and persuade us to believe in a message that serves as a propaganda tool. The central theme regarding realism, mythology and propaganda, however, is that all these points are moot if the film doesn’t have entertainment value, because without entertaining the viewer the film is lost.


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