Apocalypse Now (1979)

Brief Intro

“Apocalypse Now,” directed by Francis Ford Coppola, is a cinematic masterpiece set during the Vietnam War. It explores the psychological horrors of warfare and the darkness within humanity, following Captain Willard’s mission to assassinate the rogue Colonel Kurtz.

Literary Devices Used in Apocalypse Now

  1. Symbolism
Movie SceneDevice Example
Opening scene with helicopters and fireHelicopters symbolize destruction and chaos.
Kurtz’s compound with severed headsHeads symbolize Kurtz’s descent into madness.
  1. Imagery
Movie SceneDevice Example
Napalm explosion sceneVivid imagery of fire and destruction.
The jungle as Willard approaches KurtzDense, oppressive jungle imagery.
  1. Foreshadowing
Movie SceneDevice Example
Willard’s briefing about KurtzHints at Kurtz’s insanity.
Lance playing with a puppyForetells the vulnerability of innocence.
  1. Irony
Movie SceneDevice Example
Soldiers surfing during combatContrast between war and leisure.
Kurtz’s poetic monologuesIrony in the eloquence of a madman.
  1. Motif
Movie SceneDevice Example
The recurring use of “The End” songSymbolizes the cyclical nature of violence.
The river journeyMotif of a journey into the unknown.
  1. Allusion
Movie SceneDevice Example
Reference to “Heart of Darkness”Direct allusion to Joseph Conrad’s novella.
Kilgore’s line “Charlie don’t surf”Alludes to American cultural dominance.
  1. Juxtaposition
Movie SceneDevice Example
War and surfing scenesJuxtaposes peace and conflict.
Willard’s calm demeanor vs. violent missionContrasts internal calm and external chaos.
  1. Metaphor
Movie SceneDevice Example
The jungle as a metaphor for Kurtz’s mindRepresents the complexity and darkness within.
The river journeyMetaphor for Willard’s descent into madness.
  1. Hyperbole
Movie SceneDevice Example
Kilgore’s love for napalmExaggerates his obsession with destruction.
Willard’s description of KurtzHeightens Kurtz’s legendary status.
  1. Paradox
Movie SceneDevice Example
Kurtz’s quest for sanity through insanityAims to find order through chaos.
Willard’s mission to kill to saveParadox of violence as a means to an end.

Character Analysis Through Literary Devices

Captain Willard

SymbolismWillard represents the everyman lost in war.
JuxtapositionHis internal conflict vs. external calm.
ImageryHis narration paints a vivid picture of his mental state.

Colonel Kurtz

ForeshadowingHints of his madness from the start.
IronyKurtz’s eloquent madness.
MetaphorRepresents ultimate power and corruption.

Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore

HyperboleExaggerated love for surfing and napalm.
IronyCalm demeanor in the midst of chaos.
SymbolismRepresents the absurdity of war.

Character Dynamics

Willard and KurtzThe hunter and the hunted, a mirror image.
Willard and his crewReflects his growing detachment and obsession.
Kilgore and soldiersIllustrates the disconnect between leadership and reality.

Thematic Analysis


ImageryThe dark, oppressive jungle.
SymbolismKurtz’s compound with severed heads.

The Horror of War

JuxtapositionPeaceful music over scenes of violence.
IronySoldiers surfing during combat.

Moral Ambiguity

ParadoxKilling Kurtz to save others.
MetaphorThe river journey as a path to moral uncertainty.

Cinematic Techniques That Enhance Literary Devices

Literary DeviceTechniqueExplanation
ImageryCinematographyVivid, haunting visuals of war and nature.
SymbolismSet designKurtz’s compound as a reflection of his mind.
IronySound designUse of peaceful music during violent scenes.
JuxtapositionEditingContrasting scenes placed side by side.
MetaphorLightingDarkness enveloping characters, showing descent.

Key Scene Analysis

Helicopter Assault (Ride of the Valkyries)

  • Watch on YouTube
  • Breakdown: This scene uses Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” to create a dramatic contrast between the beauty of music and the brutality of war. The aerial assault, combined with the triumphant music, underscores the chaos and glory sought by the soldiers.

Kurtz’s Monologue (“The Horror, The Horror”)

  • Watch on YouTube
  • Breakdown: This scene highlights Kurtz’s descent into madness through his poetic and haunting speech. The dim lighting and close-up shots create an intimate and eerie atmosphere, emphasizing the horror within Kurtz.

The Final Confrontation

  • Watch on YouTube
  • Breakdown: The confrontation between Willard and Kurtz is laden with symbolism and metaphors. The shadowy, dim-lit environment reflects the murky moral waters both characters navigate, culminating in a climax that questions the very nature of morality and sanity.


Engage with this interactive multiple-choice quiz to test your understanding of the literary devices used in “Apocalypse Now.”


  1. What does the river journey symbolize in “Apocalypse Now”?
    • A) A path to enlightenment
    • B) A descent into madness
    • C) A search for freedom
    • D) A journey to paradise
  2. Which literary device is prominently used when soldiers surf during combat?
  3. Who represents the ultimate power and corruption in the film?
    • A) Captain Willard
    • B) Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore
    • C) Colonel Kurtz
    • D) Chief Phillips
  4. What does the recurring use of “The End” song symbolize?
    • A) Hope and renewal
    • B) The cyclical nature of violence
    • C) Victory and triumph
    • D) Peace and harmony
  5. Which device is used to highlight Kurtz’s compound with severed heads?