Ever since the movie's release in 1979
, film buffs have debated over the exact year in which Apocalypse Now
is set. Presented here in the order in which they appear are the clues
that have been used to take a guess at the film's date:
The curved M-16 magazines used throughout the film
The curved magazines that are seen in nearly every scene are from the mid-'70s, right? Therefore many people suppose the movie takes place around 1973-1975. This sounds legit, but it must be remembered that the 30-round magazines were not U.S. Army standard issue until 1975, long after the withdrawal of combat troops from Southeast Asia. The inclusion of these magazines in the movie was a matter of convenience, since they were in widespread use at the time of the filming. A good observation, but simply not correct.
The presence of the 1st Air Cavalry
The film's most famous sequence takes place when the crew of PBR Street Gang
meets up with part of the 1st Air Cavalry
under the command of Lieutenant Colonel William "I Love the Smell of Napalm in the Morning
" Kilgore. The fact that the Air Cav was still in Vietnam puts a ceiling on the date guessing game, since the last "First Team" personnel were withdrawn in 1972
. Therefore, the perimeter is set: the events in Apocalypse Now
must take place during or before 1972.
Lance's initials are LBJ
Many people view Lance's initials as a not-so-subtle indicator of the era in which the film takes place. Lyndon Baines Johnson was the president that stepped up American involvment in the Vietnam conflict and was in office from 1964 to 1969. Therefore, he (seemingly) could have been President while the events in the film are taking place. Another valid theory, but one that falls apart when the last bit of evidence is brought into the equation.
There are a lot of false leads in this film, but the movie's date can be deduced at a glance by an observant viewer. Here's the kicker:
Chef reads a newspaper clipping about Charles Manson's role in the Sharon Tate murders
Although it's impossible to see a date on the paper that Chef reads (sent to him by his aunt), November 1969 saw the implication of Charles Manson in the murder of Sharon Tate and her houseguests. Considering it probably took a while for the newspaper to arrive in Chef's hands (being mailed from the States to Vietnam, delays in delivery caused by being on a river in the middle of a war zone, etc.), it's safe to assume that he's reading it in early 1970.
After carefully reviewing the evidence, it is with near-patriotic pride that I declare the approximate date of Apocalypse Now to be early 1970.