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.
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.
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.
Oh man… the bullshit piled up so fast in Vietnam, you needed wings to stay above it.
[reading a letter Kurtz has sent to his son]
“I’m afraid that both you and your mother will have been worried at not hearing from me during the 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 them and accumulating evidence. When absolute proof was completed, we acted. We acted like soldiers. The charges are unjustified. They are in fact, and in 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 — 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, awake, looking at it. I will trust you to tell your mother what you choose about this letter. As for the charges against me, I am unconcerned. I am beyond their timid, lying morality, and so I am beyond caring.”
You have all my faith.
Your loving father.”
‘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.
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.
They were gonna make me a major for this, and I wasn’t even in their fuckin’ army anymore. 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.
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 never wanted another.
[after being given a “tour” of Kurtz’s camp, which contained rows of human heads impaled on spikes and displayed around ancient temples, Chef is horrified]
“This Colonel guy? He’s wacko, man! He’s far worse than crazy – he’s evil! I mean that’s what the man’s got set up here. It’s fuckin’ pagan idolatry! Look around you. Shit! He’s loco… I ain’t afraid of all them fuckin’ skulls and altars and shit. I used to think if I died in an evil place, then my soul wouldn’t be able to make it to Heaven. But now? Fuck! I mean, I don’t care where it goes, as long as it ain’t here! So whaddya wanna do? I’ll kill the fuck…”
This is dialectics. It’s very simple dialectics: 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, 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, okay?
This is the way the world ends. Look at this shit we’re in man. Not with a bang, but with a whimper, and with a whimper, I’m 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”.]
[talking to Willard about Kurtz] Why? Why would a nice guy like you want to kill a genius? Going down pretty good, huh? Why? Do you know that the man really likes you? He likes you. He really likes you. But he’s got something in mind for you. Aren’t you curious about that? I’m curious. I’m very curious. Are you curious? There’s something happening out here, man. You know something, man? I know something you that you don’t know. That’s right, Jack. The man is clear in his mind, but his soul is mad. Oh, yeah. He’s dying, I think. He hates all this. He hates it! But the man’s a… He reads poetry out loud, all right? And a voice… He likes you because you’re still alive. He’s got plans for you. No, I’m not gonna help you. You’re gonna help him, man. You’re gonna help him. I mean, what are they gonna say, man, when he’s gone? ‘Cause he dies when it dies, man! When it dies, he dies! What are they gonna say about him? What? Are they gonna say he was a kind man? He was a wise man? He had plans? He had wisdom? Bullshit, man! And am I gonna be the one that’s gonna set them straight? Look at me! Wrong! [points to Willard] You!