Study Guide

Apocalypse Now What's Up With the Ending?

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What's Up With the Ending?

In a shocking final scene, Willard hacks Kurtz to death. "The End" by The Doors adds a crazy, anarchic tinge to the proceedings. The fires of the animal sacrifice blaze outside.

But after Kurtz is dead and has spoken his last words—"The horror…the horror…"—what's Willard going to do? Are Kurtz's followers going to kill Willard?

It turns out that they aren't. They just look at him, kneel, put down their weapons, and let him walk through. They're acknowledging him as the new god, and that could be his new mission, if he chooses to accept it.

He doesn't.

He didn't go through all that trouble to kill Kurtz only to take Kurtz's place and start the whole thing over again. Then the government would have to send someone to assassinate him. And the movie was already way over budget.

Willard takes the strung-out Lance by the hand and guides him out of the tribe. As they head down to the boat and hop on board, we hear Kurtz's last words, "The horror…the horror…," again. In some cuts, the film fades to black. In another version, we see images of burning jungle and hovering helicopter fly by, just as we saw at the beginning.

Willard's escaped the cycle—or has he? His last act on the boat is to turn off the radio when he hears the command post calling him. Will he go rogue? Has he just had it with the army and the war? Shmoop, like Willard, is too shell-shocked to think about what he'll do next.

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