Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Baudrillard On Apocalypse Now

The French philosopher, Jean Baudrillard is mostly famous for his philosophical concept of hyper reality. Apart from writing important philosophical works and a cool collection of essays on America called Cool Memories, Baudrillard's most famous work is Simulacra and Simulation. I would however like to draw attention to an essay from the same volume called Apocalypse Now, which is a different understanding of this Francis Ford Coppola movie by this great philosopher.

Baudrillard starts by saying that this movie is an excess, a surfeit, showing immoderation, just like the Americans make war. This movie, he claims is an extension of war, the pinnacle of America's failed war, its apotheosis. By decking his helicopter captain in a ridiculous hat, and crushing the Vietnamese villagers to the sound of Wagner's music, Baudrillard says that they are not critical or distant signs but part of the director's megalomania, a clownish effect in overdrive.

"Coppola tests cinema's power of intervention, tests the impact of a cinema that has become an immeasurable machinery of special effects. In this sense, his film is really the extension of war through other means. The war became film, the film becomes war, the two are joined by their common hemorrhage into technology".

"One revisits everything through cinema and one begins again: the Molochian joy of filming, the sacrificial joys of so many millions spent, of such a holocaust of means, of so many misadventures, and the remarkable paranoia that from the beginning conceived of this film as a historical, global event, in which, in the mind of the creator, the war in Vietnam would have been nothing other than what it is, would not fundamentally have existed- and it is necessary for us to believe in this war: the war in Vietnam in itself never happened, as it is a dream, a baroque dream of napalm and of the tropics, a psychotropic dream that had the goal of neither victory nor of policy at stake, but, rather, the sacrificial excessive deployment of a power already filming itself as it unfolded, perhaps waiting for nothing but consecration by a super film, which completes the mass- spectacle effect of this war".

"The war in Vietnam and this movie are cut from the same cloth, nothing separates them, if the Americans lost the other one, they certainly lost this one". For Baudrillard, this film retrospectively "illuminates what was crazy about that war, irrational in political terms". Because the two nations are again reunited, "one has understood nothing, neither about the war nor about cinema if one has not grasped this lack of distinction that is no longer either an ideological or moral one, one of good and evil, but of the reversibility of destruction and production, of the immanence of a thing in its very revolution, of the organic metabolism of all the technologies, of the carpet of bombs in the strip of film"..........

Baudrillard also wrote a book called The gulf war never happened, and as he explains, "simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being, or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal".

His reflections above remind us of the horrors of the two recent Gulf Wars, wars played out in the innocent space of the TV viewer, a spectacle, of thunder and awe, as it was called. But, sadly, these wars did happen. Baudrillard the philosopher writes like a poet, his writing is a dream. I have found his Cool Memories brilliant with each page quotable. It remains my intention to quote from those volumes in the future.


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