The opening scene of Apocalypse Now can certainly be described as “intense”. The scene opens with an aerial view of a forest of Palm trees. Simultaneously, you can hear the chopping sound of a helicopter propeller cutting into the wind – and in the background, the start of the song “This is the End” by the Doors. As the introduction to the song progresses, elements in the film change and smoke enters the scene amongst the palm trees. It isn’t until the very start of the first set of lyrics to the song that the forest completely incinerates into flames. The lyrics begin with the sentence “this is the end…” Then, the scene begins to fade and, therein, introduces a cross-cut scene including a very young Martin Sheen.
The premise of the film is based on the Vietnam War (1955-1975). In my interpretation of the movie, the opening scene was the precursor for the way chaos and war was going to be depicted in the film; the viewers are immediately introduced to aspects of war, such as chaos and catastrophic events – circumstances very real in a war setting, at the start of the movie. Bits of information would reveal itself throughout the opening scene. On a night stand are formal documents fanned out and a vintage photograph of a female; additionally, the viewer is shown a bottle of cognac, a lit cigarette in the character’s hand, and a gun resting just below his pillow.
The camera primarily focuses the viewer’s attention onto the characters forehead and eyes, while simultaneously showing the previous scene of the trees caught on fire and helicopters. Perhaps, insinuating the character’s involvement in the catastrophic event. From the viewer’s perspective, it’s easy to infer that the film takes place during a time of chaos. Likewise, chaos becomes a continuous aspect presented throughout the entire film.