Silence of the Lambs: How women are represented in ‘Apocalypse Now Redux’?

Apocalypse Now Playboy Bunny

It is worth saying that this interpretation has been constructed through my own cultural ‘baggage’ (so to speak) because as Derrida explains the text (or film interpretation in this case)  ‘is no longer a finished corpus of writing  (Derrida, 1995) because firstly, the film is an interpretation of Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’  and secondly, the audience that is watching the movie’s cultural background is in flux. In fact,  today I am analysing from my space in London where I see the representation of women as important in Apocalypse Now Redux however, to someone else in another time, place or with a different cultural background, they may not even have considered the role of the women in the film.

I have identified three categories in the film that show Coppola’s different representation of women. I have analysed the film myself, and also used sources to back-up my claims.

  • The Playboy women ( Their Entrance ‘ Helicopter Scene’ and Stranded in the Forest)
  • Vietnamese women at the beginning of the film
  • The French female colonist, Roxanne

(Need Minutes) The Playboy women (Entrance Scene)

  • The Playboy women are represented as an object, a symbol of the male gaze. ‘In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact’  (Mulvey, 1999, p. 837) In this way, the playboy bunnies are represented through the western, male gaze. It is suggested that this gaze is seen through the eyes of the protagonist Captain Benjamin Willard, because the camera darts to him in the crowd to the stage where the playboy bunnies are.
  • It is suggested that these women are given no authoritative voice because they have no real part to play in the Vietnam War. Using Willard’s perception of this scene, perhaps Coppolo is suggesting the savage nature of the male gaze which do not regard females as equals.
  • Barbara Enrenreich’s critiqued Playboy Magazine in 1954, to represent the consumer culture of the time. Using a post-colonial critique (in the context of the film, American interventionism) perhaps, the objectification of these women suggests all that is wrong with western intervention into ‘oriental states’ because the colonisers who symbolise the trope of American Freedom and Equality are seen as uncontrollable and savage.
  • I want to look more into Freud’s scopophilia which Laura Mulvey relates to Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema and use it in analysing this moment in the film. However, I need to rent out the movie again to do this.

(78:00+ Minutes): The Playboy women (Stranded and awaiting evacuation on the boat scene)

  • The objectification of the women is exaggerated, they are traded like objects, and two fuel barrels are traded with two hours with the playmates.
  • They are incomprehensible, and are represented as mentally out of it as the women seem mentally insane. This signal is that women have no place in the Vietnam War they are incoherent to what truly is going on.
  • What is an interesting added argument  is Celin’s addition (in our 10/03/17 meeting) of the repetitive tape of the mother to her son. He is killed in a matter of minutes whilst the tape eerily plays in the background. This distance put between the male soldier and his mother distances women in general. In fact, it symbolises how the wives, the mothers and the daughters were detached from the horrors of the war.
  • ‘In Heart of Darkness’ Marlow associated European civilisation with women “They-the women, I mean-are out of it-should be out of it. We must help them to stay in that beautiful world of their own, lest ours get worse (Conrad, 1988, p. 49)’ In Demroy. They represent civilisation, a CORRUPT CIVILISATION nonetheless!

(23:58-26:54)Vietnamese Women

  • They are represented much more differently to the Playmates. I have chosen this section of the film as it introduces Vietnamese women as helpless, desperate and un-authoritative which is a common characterisation of the Vietnamese women in the film. Perhaps this representation emphasises their helplessness in such an oppressively male dominated war.
  • They are silenced by Coppolo as they are the representation of the ‘Subaltern’ who cannot speak (Spivak, p. 67). Though there is this idea of American interventionism for justice, using Spivak highlights that the ‘the female subaltern […] bears the burdens of racisms, sexism, classism and imperialism’.

110 minutes+ Roxanne/ Mme Sarrault ( Need to do more work on her representation)

  • Focuses on her beauty once again and once again she has sex, but in this case, it seems consensual.
  • She is the embodiment of the colonial past – halting in time.


  • Conrad, J. (1988). Heart of Darkness. New York: Norton.
  • Derrida, J. (1995). Living On Border Lines. Deconstruction and Criticism, 75-76.
  • Mulvey, L. (1999). Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. In L. Braudy, & M. Cohen, Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings (pp. 833-44). New York: Oxford UP.
  • Spivak, G. (2008). Can the Subaltern Speak? In J. Sharp, Geographies of Postcolonialism (pp. 66-111). SAGE Publications.


5 thoughts on “Silence of the Lambs: How women are represented in ‘Apocalypse Now Redux’?

  1. N.B to @Li
    Apocalypse Now Redux: Heart of Darkness Moves Into New Territory written by Pamela Demory would be a good read for Li’s Analysis because it focuses on Said’s Orientalism.
    She argues how the has evidence to suggest it could represent a stop in time ‘ certain historicism’ . However, she concludes that when read with Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ it seems more likely to be another story of the never-ending cycle of ‘the dangers of wielding “imperial mastery and will” in foreign countries…

  2. Maybe also have a quick look at “Hearts of Darkness: Making Art, Making history, Making Money, Making ‘Vietnam'”, written by Kim Worthy. It’s a very short review.

    @Gabi: Worthy talks about ‘the power of historical containment’: “the film seems to be a product of an idea of history that is purposive and which centres the masculine hero within that worldview. The white middle-class male is axis of the representation… ”

    @Li: The film locates American identity crisis at the centre of this war. Worthy notes that the film also put the “emphasis on the ‘madness’ as a result of ‘Vietnam'”. What do you think?

  3. I’m glad to see that you are busy unpacking all the many strands of this rich film. It might be useful to do some ‘zooming’ out, and specifically considering how this typical this film is of its time with regards to the representation of women. A brief mention of women in other films or even media might be useful to help strengthen your claims, Gabi, about the various roles of women in the film. I would also recommend that you do more with intersectionality with regards to the representation of the Vietnamese women.

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