The surrender of life is nothing to sinking down into acknowledgment of inferiority.John C. Calhoun
- Our Motto: Apocalypse Now!
- Scrawled on the wall of the steps leading up from the river.
Colonel Walter E. Kurtz
- Have you ever considered any real freedoms? Freedom from the opinions of others...even the opinions of yourself?
- You're neither! You're an errand boy sent by grocery clerks....to collect a bill.
- I went down that river once when I was a kid. There's a place in the river.. I can't remember... Must have been a gardenia plantation at one time. All wild and overgrown now, but for about five miles you'd think that heaven just fell on the earth in the form of gardenias...
- We must kill them. We must incinerate them. Pig after pig. Cow after cow. Village after village. Army after army. And they call me an assassin. What do you call it when the assassins accuse the assassin? They lie. They lie, and we have to be merciful, for those who lie. Those nabobs. I hate them. I do hate them.
- I've seen horrors … horrors that you've seen. But 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 are truly enemies. I remember when I was with Special Forces. Seems a thousand centuries ago. We went into a camp to inoculate the children. We left the camp after we had inoculated the children for Polio, and this old man came running after us, and he was crying. He couldn't see. We went back there, and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile. A pile of little arms. And I remember … I … I … I cried. I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out. I didn't know what I wanted to do. And I want to remember it. I never want to forget it. I never want to forget. And then I realized … like I was shot … like I was shot with a diamond … a diamond bullet right through my forehead. And I thought: My God … the genius of that. The genius. The will to do that. Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. And then I realized they were stronger than we. Because they could stand that these were not monsters. These were men … trained cadres. These men who fought with their hearts, who had families, who had children, who were filled with love … but they had the strength … the strength … to do that. If I had ten divisions of those men, then our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral … and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling … without passion … without judgment … without judgment. Because it's judgment that defeats us.
- We train young men to drop fire on people. But their commanders won't allow them to write "fuck" on their airplanes because it's obscene!
- I watched a snail crawl along the edge of a straight razor. That's my dream. It's my nightmare. Crawling, slithering, along the edge of a straight razor … and surviving.
- I worry that my son might not understand what I've tried to be. And if I were to be killed, Willard, I would want someone to go to my home and tell my son everything – everything I did, everything you saw – because there's nothing that I detest more than the stench of lies. And if you understand me, Willard, you will do this for me.
- The horror … the horror … (Kurtz' last words)
Captain Benjamin L. Willard
- Saigon … shit; I'm still only in Saigon … Every time I think I'm gonna 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 hardly said a word to my wife, until I said "yes" to a divorce. When I was here, I wanted to be there; when I was there, all I could think of was getting back into the jungle. I'm 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 looked around, the walls moved in a little tighter.
- The crew were mostly just kids. Rock 'n' rollers with one foot in their graves.
- They'd traded in their horses for choppers, and went tear-assing around 'Nam looking for the shit …
- Part of me was afraid of what I would find and what I would do when I got there. I knew the risks, or imagined I knew. But the thing I felt the most, much stronger than fear, was the desire to confront him.
- He was one of those guys that had that weird light around him. You just knew he wasn't going to get so much as a scratch here.
- 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 that snaked through the war like a main circuit cable – plugged straight into Kurtz. It was no accident that I got to be the caretaker of Colonel Walter E. Kurtz's memory – any more than being back in Saigon was an accident. There is no way to tell his story without telling my own. And if his story really is a confession, then so is mine.
- How many people had I already killed? There was those six that I know about for sure. Close enough to blow their last breath in my face. But this time it was an American and an officer. That wasn't supposed to make any difference to me, but it did. Shit … charging a man with murder in this place was like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500. I took the mission. What the hell else was I gonna do? But, I really didn't know what I'd do when I found him.
- If that's how Kilgore fought the war, I began to wonder what they really had against Kurtz. It wasn't just insanity and murder, there was enough of that to go around for everyone.
- Oh man, the bullshit piled up so fast in Vietnam you needed wings to stay above it.
- No wonder Kurtz put a weed up Command's ass. The war was being run by a bunch of four star clowns who were gonna end up giving the whole circus away.
- It's a way we had over here with living with ourselves. We cut 'em in half with a machine gun and give 'em a Band-Aid. It was a lie. And the more I saw them, the more I hated lies.
- The machinist, the one they called Chef, was from New Orleans. He was wrapped too tight for Vietnam, probably wrapped too tight for New Orleans. Lance on the forward 50's was a famous surfer from the beaches south of L.A. You look at him and you wouldn't believe he ever fired a weapon in his whole life. Clean, Mr. Clean, was from some South Bronx shithole. The light and space of Vietnam really put the zap on his head. Then there was Phillips, the Chief. It might have been my mission, but it sure as shit was the Chief's boat.
- 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.
- Someday this war's gonna end. That'd be just fine with the boys on the boat. They weren't looking for anything more than a way home. Trouble is, I'd been back there, and I knew that it just didn't exist anymore.
- Charlie didn't get much USO. He was dug in too deep, or movin' too fast. His idea of R&R was cold rice and a little rat meat. He had only two ways home: death or victory.
- Never get out of the boat. Absolutely goddamn right. Unless you were goin' all the way. Kurtz got off the boat. He split from the whole fuckin' program.
- They were gonna make me a major for this, and I wasn't even in their fuckin' army anymore.
- Late summer-autumn 1968: Kurtz's patrols in the highlands coming under frequent ambush. The camp started falling apart … November: Kurtz orders the assassination of three Vietnamese men and one woman. Two of the men were Colonels in the South Vietnamese army. Enemy activity in his old sector dropped off to nothing. Guess he must have hit the right four people. The army tried one last time to bring him back into the fold. And if he pulled over, it all would have been forgotten. But he kept going, and he kept winning it his way, and they called me in. They lost him. He was gone. Nothing but rumors and random intelligence, mostly from captured VC. The VC knew his name by now, and they were scared of him. He and his men were playing hit and run all the way into Cambodia.
- On the river, I thought that the minute I looked at him, I'd know what to do, but it didn't happen. I was in there with him for days, not under guard, I was free, but he knew I wasn't going anywhere. He knew more about what I was going to do than I did. If the Generals back in Nha Trang could see what I saw, would they still want me to kill him? More than ever, probably. And what would his people back home want if they ever learned just how far from them he'd really gone? He broke from them, and then he broke from himself. I'd never seen a man so broken up and ripped apart.
- 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. Even the jungle wanted him dead, and that's who he really took his orders from anyway.
- (Willard reads a letter Kurtz has sent to his son)
I'm afraid that both you and your mother would have been worried for not hearing from me these past weeks. But my situation here has become a difficult one. I've been officially accused of murder by the Army. The alleged victims were four Vietnamese double agents. We spent months uncovering and accumulating evidence. When absolute proof was completed, we acted, we acted like soldiers. The charges are unjustified. They are in fact, under the circumstances of this conflict, quite completely insane. In a war there are many moments for compassion and tender action. There are many moments for ruthless action, for what is often called ruthless, what may in many circumstances be only clarity; seeing clearly what there is to be done and doing it directly, quickly, aware … looking at it. I would trust you to tell your mother what you choose about this letter. As for the charges, I'm unconcerned. I'm beyond their timid, lying morality. And so I'm beyond caring.
You have all my faith.
Your loving father."
Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore
- If I say it's safe to surf this beach, Captain, then it's safe to surf this beach!
- You either surf or you fight.
- What the hell do you know about surfing, Major? You're from god damned New Jersey.
- Charlie don't surf!
- We use Wagner. My boys love it. It scares the hell outta' the slopes.
- Don't these people ever give up?
- Fucking savages!
- Outstanding, Red Team, outstanding! Getcha a case of beer for that one.
- Lance Johnson the surfer?
- You can take that boat anywhere that suits you, young captain.
- I will not hurt or harm you. Just give me back the board, Lance. It was a good board – and I like it. You know how hard it is to find a board you like. (repeated over helicopter loudspeaker)
- You smell that? Do you smell that? Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of napalm in the morning. You know, one time we had a hill bombed, for twelve hours. When it was all over I walked up. We didn't find one of 'em, not one stinkin' dink body. The smell, you know that gasoline smell, the whole hill. Smelled like … victory.
- Note: bolded line is ranked #12 in the American Film Institute's list of the top 100 movie quotations in American cinema.
- Someday this war's gonna end …
- Unass that shit, get it out of here.
- Any man brave enough to fight with his guts strapped on him can drink from my canteen anyday.
Jay "Chef" Hicks
- Fuck it. I'm gonna get me some mangoes.
- [sobbing; after Willard executes a dying Vietnamese woman] Fuck you. Fuck you. Fuck them.
- Fucking tiger!
- [after the tiger attack] You can kiss my ass 'cause I'm bugging out! I didn't drop out of the goddamn eigth grade for this shit, man! I only wanted to learn to cook, I only wanted to fuckin' cook, man!
- (after learning the purpose of Willard's mission) That's fuckin' typical! Shit! Fuckin' Vietnam mission! I'm short and we gotta go up there so you can kill one of our own guys? That's fuckin' great! That's just fuckin' great, man. Shit. That's fuckin'... crazy! I thought you were going in there to blow up a bridge, or, some fucking railroad tracks or somethin'.
- I'm asleep. I'm asleep and dreaming I'm on this shitty boat.
- Never get out of the boat!
- (Referring to Kurtz) He's worse than crazy, he's evil!
- I used to think if I died in an evil place, then my soul wouldn't make it to heaven. Well, fuck. I don't care where it goes as long it ain't here.
- My orders say I'm not supposed to know where I'm taking this boat, so I don't. But one look at you, and I know it's gonna be hot.
- You know, I've pulled a few special Ops in here. About six months ago, I took a man who was going past the bridge at Do Lung. [pause] He was regular army, too. I heard he shot himself in the head.
- Which way, Captain? (Willard replies, "you know the way, Chief") You're on your own, Captain. Still wanna go on? Like this bridge: we build it every night. Charlie blows it right back up again. Just so the generals can say the road's open. Think about it. Who cares?
- (impaled) A spear.
- You got us in this mess, and now you can't get us out, because you don't know where the hell you're going, do you? (Willard doesn't answer) Do you? You son of a bitch! You bastard!
Lance B. Johnson
- [reading a letter] "There could never be a place like Disneyland, or could there? Let me know." [pause] Disneyland, man. Fuck! This is better than Disneyland!
- Any poisonous snakes around here?
- I'll go. I want to go.
- [opening smoke grenades] Purple haze!
- Where's the dog?! We have to go back for the dog!
Tyrone 'Clean' Miller
- This sho' enuf a bizarre sight in the middle of all this shit.
- Run, Charlie!
- Charlie don't ever see 'em hear 'em, man. Concussion'll suck the air outta your damn lungs.
- There's mines over there, there's mines over there, and watch out those goddamn monkeys bite, I'll tell ya.
- One through nine, no maybes, no supposes, no fractions. You can't travel in space, you can't go out into space, you know, without, like, you know, uh, with fractions – what are you going to land on – one-quarter, three-eighths? What are you going to do when you go from here to Venus or something? That's dialectic physics.
- Dialectic logic is there's only love and hate, you either love somebody or you hate them."
- (Referring to Kurtz) He likes you because you're still alive.
- This is the way the fucking world ends. Look at this fucking shit we're in man. Not with a bang, but with a whimper. And with a whimper, I'm fucking splitting, Jack. (Note: This is a variation on T.S. Eliot's The Hollow Men – "This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper".)
- (Referring to Kurtz) I mean, what are they gonna say about him, when he's gone, huh? What are they gonna say? Are they gonna say "he was a kind man"? "He was a wise man"? "He had plans"; "He had wisdom"? Bullshit, man! What are they gonna do when he's gone? What are they gonna turn to me? I mean come on, look at me! Am I gonna set them straight, NO...You[Willard].
- (Apologizing for severed heads adorning Kurtz's headquarters) The heads. You're looking at the heads. I, uh – sometimes he goes too far, you know – he's the first one to admit it!
- Hey, man, you don't talk to the Colonel. You listen to him. The man's enlarged my mind. He's a poet-warrior in the classic sense. I mean, sometimes he'll, uh, well, you'll say "Hello" to him, right? And he'll just walk right by you, and he won't even notice you. And suddenly he'll grab you, and he'll throw you in a corner, and he'll say "Do you know that 'if' is the middle word in life? 'If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, if you can trust yourself when all men doubt you'..." – I mean, I'm no, I can't – I'm a little man, I'm a little man, he's, he's a great man. I should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across floors of silent seas – I mean –...(Note: This is a variation on T.S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, with the 'If you can keep your head...' a quote from Rudyard Kipling's If)
- Zap em' with your sirens, man! Zap em' with your sirens!
- Roxanne: There are two of you. One that kills and one that loves.
- Roxanne (after asking if Willard will go back to America after the war and he replies no): Then you are like us; your home is here.
- Roxanne: The war will still be here tomorrow.
- Zack Johnson (radio announcer): And now here's another blast from the past coming out to Big Cind, all alone in the men's room out there with the First Battalion Thirty-fifth Infantry, and dedicated by the fire team at An Khe to their groupie CO Fred the Head: The Rolling Stones' Satisfaction.
- Hubert: You are fighting for the biggest nothing in history.
- Lt. Carlsen: You're in the asshole of the world, Captain!
- General Corman: Well, you see Willard... In this war, things get confused out there, power, ideals, the old morality, and practical military necessity. Out there with these natives it must be a temptation to be god. Because there's a conflict in every human heart between the rational and the irrational, between good and evil. The good does not always triumph. Sometimes the dark side overcomes what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature. Every man has got a breaking point. You and I have. Walter Kurtz has reached his. And very obviously, he has gone insane.
- Lucy (Playmate): Being playmate of the year... is the loneliest experience i can imagine. It's like... you try to express your feelings to someone and show them your heart and there's this glass wall between you, this invisible glass. They can see your mouth moving. But they can't hear what you're saying. You can never really make them hear what you're trying to say. That's why i tried so desperately... to show somebody that i had some talent. They make you do things you don't wanna do... like, this picture here. I started feeling repulsed with myself. Maybe i'm unfit to have a relationship with a beautiful, innocent boy. I wish... I wish i could find.. just one person... that could share my point of view.
- Colonel Lucas: Your mission is to proceed up the Nung River in a Navy patrol boat. Pick up Colonel Kurtz's path at Nu Mung Ba, follow it and learn what you can along the way. When you find the Colonel, infiltrate his team by whatever means available and terminate the Colonel's command.
- Willard: Terminate?..... the Colonel?
- General Corman: He's out there operating without any decent restraint, totally beyond the pale of any acceptable human conduct. And he is still in the field commanding troops.
- Jerry (CIA Civilian): Terminate..... with extreme prejudice.
- Colonel Lucas: You understand, Captain, that this mission does not exist, nor will it ever exist.
- Chef: How come all you guys sit on your helmets?
- Soldier: So we don't get our balls blown off.
- [Chef laughs a little, seems to think for a second and then sits on his helmet]
- Willard: My mission is to make it up into Cambodia. There's a Green Beret Colonel up there who's gone insane. I'm supposed to kill him.
- Chef: That's fucking typical! Shit. Fuckin' Vietnam mission! I'm short and we gotta go up there so you can kill one of our own guys? That's fuckin' great! That's just fuckin' great, man. Shit. That's fuckin'... crazy! I thought you were going in there to blow up a bridge, or, some fucking railroad tracks or somethin'.
- Willard: Could we, uh, talk to Colonel Kurtz?
- Photojournalist: Hey, man, you don't talk to the Colonel. You listen to him. The man's enlarged my mind. He's a poet-warrior in the classic sense. I mean, sometimes he'll, uh, well, you'll say hello to him, right? And he'll just walk right by you, and he won't even notice you. And suddenly he'll grab you, and he'll throw you in a corner, and he'll say "Do you know that 'if' is the middle word in life? 'If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, if you can trust yourself when all men doubt you'..." I mean, I'm no, I can't – I'm a little man, I'm a little man, he's, he's a great man. I should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across floors of silent seas … (Note: The last sentences here reference first Rudyard Kipling's poem If— and then T.S. Eliot's poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.)
- Willard: Are you crazy, God damn it? Don't you think its a little risky for some R&R?
- Kilgore: If I say it's safe to surf this beach Captain, then it's safe to surf this beach. I mean, I'm not afraid to surf this place, I'll surf this whole fucking place!
- Kilgore: How're you feeling, Jimmy?
- Door Gunner: Like a mean motherfucker, sir!
- [the boat has arrived at the Do Lung bridge, which is a combat zone]
- Chef: Lance, hey Lance. What do you think?
- Lance: It's beautiful.
- Chef: What's the matter with you? You're acting kinda weird.
- Lance: Hey, you know that last tab of acid I was saving? I dropped it.
- Chef: You dropped acid? … Far out.
- Roxanne: Do you know why you can never step into the same river twice?
- Willard: Yeah, 'cause it's always moving.
- Kurtz: Did they say why, Willard, why they want to terminate my command?
- Willard: I was sent on a classified mission, sir.
- Kurtz: It's no longer classified, is it? Did they tell you?
- Willard: They told me that you had gone totally insane, and that your methods were unsound.
- Kurtz: Are my methods unsound?
- Willard: I don't see any method at all, sir.
- Kurtz: I expected someone like you. What did you expect? Are you an assassin?
- Willard: I'm a soldier.
- Kurtz: You're neither. You're an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks, to collect a bill.
- Willard: Who's in charge here, soldier?
- Infantryman: Ain't you?
- Willard: Soldier, do you know who's in command here?
- The Roach: Yeah. [turns away]
- Willard: How long has this kid been on this boat?
- Chief Phillips: Seven months.
- Willard: He's really specializing in busting my balls.
- Chief Phillips: Very possible, Captain, he thinks the same of you …
- Willard: Oh yeah? And what you think, Chief?
- Chief Phillips: I don't think! My orders say I'm not supposed to know where I'm taking this boat, so I don't! But one look at you and I know it's gonna be hot, wherever it is. (Brief pause)
- Willard: We're going about 70 klicks above the Do Lung bridge.
- Chief Phillips: That's Cambodia, Captain.
- Willard: That's classified. We're not supposed to be in Cambodia, but that's where I'm going. You just get me close to my destination, and I cut you and the crew loose.
- Chief Phillips: All right, Captain.
- Marlon Brando – Colonel Walter E. Kurtz
- Martin Sheen – Captain Benjamin L. Willard
- Robert Duvall – Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore
- Frederic Forrest – Jay 'Chef' Hicks
- Sam Bottoms – Lance B. Johnson
- Albert Hall – Chief Phillips
- Laurence Fishburne – Tyrone 'Clean' Miller
- Dennis Hopper – Photojournalist
- Harrison Ford – Colonel Lucas
- G.D. Spradlin – General Corman
- Jerry Ziesmer – Jerry,CIA Civilian
- Scott Glenn – Lieutenant Richard M. Colby