Paradox Now

Considering that I’ve only just managed to finish watching the film today, I feel like now I’m better able to write a (good) blog post. So here it goes.

I couldn’t help but notice the overwhelming number of hypocrises, contradictions and ironies dispersed throughout the movie. Most notably in the extreme hypocrisy of the American Army, who say they are intervening against the Communists in the name of liberty and democracy. But clearly, death and destruction are the only real results of American involvement within the Vietnam War. While the Vietnamese go about their daily lives, soldiers swoop in from the sky, gunning down Viet Cong and innocent civilians alike.

Moreover, it seems strange to me that they choose to assassinate Kurtz of all people. Amid the group’s many senseless killings and the Army’s slaughter of native Vietnamese en masse, spending all that effort, time and lives to terminate one crazy individual seems like a task put together by, well, crazy individuals.

Is Kurtz the only empty or “hollow man”? Not so; many other US troops seem hollow as well. The filmmaker near the beginning of the movie, who films the soldiers as they run past, transforms the war into popular entertainment back home. Deprived of some much needed R&R, the group stumbles upon a Playboy Playmate show, where sex-deprived men oggle over women they will never be able to have–meanwhile, innocent lives are being taken. This just goes to show how empty their values are.

These are just some of the obvious ones. Another one would be at the beginning of the movie, where The Doors’ song “The End” plays. The list goes on and on…

As the people in my seminar know, I do have an unhealthy fascination with paradoxes and irony.



One Comment

  1. Hi Brendan:

    I’m way behind in commenting on blog posts! Your post made me think of the scene when Willard’s group first meets Colonel Kilgore, and they’re finishing up an operation (where they’re putting down “death cards,” and where Kilgore stops giving water to a Viet Cong soldier who is dying because he hears that Lance the famous surfer is there). After they’ve destroyed the village, someone is standing with a loudspeaker saying something like, “We are here to help you…”. Right. That one really stood out to me when I watched the film as being especially ironic.

    As for “hollow men,” I’m still working on my thoughts on that one. For Eliot and Conrad, the hollow men seem to be those who espouse certain ideals on the outside, but are hollow inside in the sense that they don’t really live up to those ideas. Or else they’re hollow in that they really don’t have strong ideals or values, they don’t really believe in anything (except perhaps petty greed or ambition). In the film, it’s Kurtz reading the poem, but is Kurtz himself a hollow man? I don’t think the movie gives us a good sense of that, at least not for me, because I can’t tell what he is doing all this for. In Conrad’s book he became obsessed with ivory, but in the film…I don’t think it’s that clear. During one of his talks with Willard, he talks about becoming so strong that you could do horrible things (like cut off inoculated arms), that if he had a group of men who could live up to such horror and do what it takes to win a war, then the war would be over quickly. So maybe he’s trying to just be true to what it would really take to do what’s necessary in a war, trying to not be hypocritical and say that if we’re in a war to win, this is the sort of stuff we have to do. That’s one reading of what Kurtz is doing, and I’m not sure that’s “hollow,” really. Of course, another reading of what he’s doing is enjoying power for the sake of power, in which case we can read him as being hollow.

    That’s why I asked this question in seminar, because for me I’m still not fully clear on who is “hollow” in the film, and how/why. I appreciated your examples of the filmmaker and the USO Playboy Bunny show as being related to hollowness as well, so thank you!

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