I just watched Apocalypse Now for the first time, and didn't understand some of the quotes narrated by Capt. Willard they are as follows:

It was no accident that I got to be the caretaker of Colonel Walter E. Kurtz's memory, any more that being back in Saigon was an accident


Never get out of the boat. Absolutely goddamn right. Unless you were going all the way


They were gonna make me a major for this, and I wasn't even in their fucking army anymore.

What is the real meaning/reference of those quotes?

  • 3
    Hi, Welcome to Movies and TV SE. Asking on clearance for this many quotes in one question, probably renders this too broad. You should ask these in separate questions.
    – Vishwa
    Aug 29, 2019 at 4:11

2 Answers 2


(from 'Gradesaver')

'It was no accident...'

This statement and the fact that most of the voiceover is in the past tense indicates that the events of Apocalypse Now are illustrative of Willard's recollections. This sets the tone for the film, because Coppola gives his audience the expectation of a transformative journey, but also, we know that Willard is going to survive and Kurtz is going to die. By calling himself the 'caretaker of Kurtz's memory,' Willard foreshadows the decision he makes at the end of the film. When Willard first arrives at Kurtz's compound, it seems as though Kurtz only keeps Willard alive because he wants to give him all the knowledge and guilt so he can take Kurtz's place. Once Kurtz has accepted that his time has come, he entrusts Willard with a mission that will take him back out of the jungle. Kurtz wants Willard to share his story, all of it, with his own son. Therefore, even though Kurtz deserves to perish for all his moral violations, Willard understands why he snapped, and can hopefully, use Kurtz's story to prevent another Vietnam.

'Never get off the boat...'

Willard wonders what Kurtz saw during his first tour that sent him in such a radical direction (which resulted in his splitting 'from the whole fucking programme'.)

and finally, from an 'A level film Studies - Focus Film Factsheet...

He is a man who has fought so much he has forgotten why he is fighting; all he knows is that he fights. As a representation of a dehumanised soldier the performance is electrifying. His last voice-over monologue (02:57:48) suggests that despite having killed Kurtz, Willard will remain as conflicted and alienated as ever: ‘They were going to make me a Major for this and I wasn’t even in their fucking army anymore’.

1.Gradesaver AN Study Guide

2.A level Film Studies - Focus Film Factsheet

I have some of my own thoughts as well but cannot verify them using any other source. It's a complex film and much of this content is still subjective analysis so do not take it as the be all and end all.


"Never get out of the boat... Unless you were going all the way" was a great line because it had both a literal meaning with regard to the dangers of the jungle, and then a metaphorical meaning about leaving American society.

As the movie progresses, Willard becomes increasingly infatuated with, and sympathetic toward Kurtz, to the extent that he no longer feels a part of the US military, having become disenfranchised with both the American military and US society as a whole. If he assassinated Kurtz, his reward would be a promotion to the rank of Major, but he was no longer interested in this.

Bonus answer: Why didn't Kurtz simply kill Willard when he had him captured? Kurtz was evaluating Willard as a potential and worthy successor. Plus, in the event Willard did return to society, Kurtz wanted Willard to explain things honestly to Kurtz's son.

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