Buffalo Slaughter In Apocalypse Now (1979).

Francis Coppola’s 1979 Classic Apocalypse Now not only reflects upon the rigors of the Vietnam War but also provokes us to think about these tensions within our own lives. Apocalypse Now was an interpretation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, widely acclaimed as one of his best works. The movie does not fall short as it captures the inherent madness of warfare with its great filmmaking and stupendous screenplay. What imparted a seemingly unfamiliar and bizarre flavor to the film was the tribal element- the portrayal of the reversion of man into a more primal state due to warfare. I was intrigued by how several scenes in the movie felt so real. It reminds me of the animal sacrifice scene where the tribals slaughtered a water buffalo. Was the animal actually killed, or was it just the effects?

In this article, I will be answering this question, and we will also be looking at other related questions.

Water Buffalo Sacrifice Apocalypse Now

At the end of Apocalypse Now, not only did the buffalo sacrifice scene feel real, but it also attracted a great deal of controversy. So was it all real? Was a buffalo sacrificed for the sake of the movie? What implications did it have for the film? 

Was A Real Water Buffalo Killed In Apocalypse Now?

Yes, a real water buffalo (aka carabao) was seen being slaughtered at the end of Francis Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. However, it was not killed for the sake of the film. The tribe shown in the movie was a real indigenous tribe that lived in the area known as the Ifugaos. The tribe had already marked the buffalo for ritual sacrifice. So Coppola decided to capture the actual ritual- a bloody and brutal slaughter for the final scenes of Apocalypse Now. It would have been hacked to death whether or not the cameras were rolling. “I did not direct it or anything. That was the way they do it,” said Coppola, noting that he refused an offer to keep an extra water buffalo on standby if the first shoot did not go as planned. “I’m not going to kill an animal for a movie; I’m not going to kill anything for any reason.” 

Was The Buffalo Slaughter Illegal?

No. It was not illegal in the Philippines, where the scene was filmed. The water buffalo belonged to the indigenous tribe, and the scene depicted how they slaughtered their livestock. By all means, no laws prevented them from doing so, nor was it illegal for Coppola to film them doing it.

Even today, it seems that an indigenous tribe like the Ifugaos would be able to conduct a similar slaughter of carabao. There was no prohibition on such a killing when the film was shot. Moreover, the Philippines’ Animal Welfare Act Of 1998 states the following-

The killing of any animal other than cattle, pigs, goats, sheep, poultry, rabbits, carabao, horse, deer, and crocodiles is likewise hereby declared unlawful except,

When it is done as part of the religious rituals of an established religion or sect or ritual required by ethnic custom of indigenous cultural communities: however, leaders shall keep records in cooperation with the Committee on Animal Welfare…

Technically, even the application of this act did not make the water buffalo slaughter illegal because it involved a ritualistic practice of an indigenous community. However, the act might have been illegal under U.S. law because it was an American production subject to American animal cruelty laws. But it was not monitored because it was filmed in another country, i.e., the Philippines.

Did The Scene Have Any Consequences For The Film?

Although the carabao slaughter was not illegal, it still had consequences for the film. Not only did the film attract controversies and rage of animal lovers, but the film was also not given the familiar credit- “No animals were harmed in the making of this film”. The American Humane Association also added Apocalypse Now to its list of “Unacceptable” films on account of this very scene. 

Apocalypse Now was filmed in the Philippines in 1979. According to AHA’s research, a water buffalo was hacked to pieces during the making of the film, earning the film an Unacceptable rating.” – AHA


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