A Comparison of the movie Apocalypse Now to the short story “Heart of Darkness”
The stories in the movie Apocalypse Now and in the short story “Heart of Darkness” are similar on many accounts. In fact Apocalypse Now, directed by Francis Ford Coppola and presented for the first time in a shortened version in 1979, was loosely based on the story of “Heart of Darkness”, which was written in 1902 by the British author, of Polish origins, Joseph Conrad.
of Darkness” we follow a British sailor, Marlow. He is the captain of a
steamboat going up the
background of each story is the clash of civilizations. In “Heart of Darkness”
the recently industrialized Europeans, especially the British, French, and
Belgians are taming the Africans in order to extract as much wealth as possible
First Marlow and Willard are not traveling alone. Marlow embark on a
steamboat and brings with him the crew consisting of Natives, the manager and
his assistant, plus a group of pilgrims and their
Marlow and Willard are constantly in a dual situation. When they go
Then they get to the compound where Kurtz is living or hiding. They discover a place that has more to do with an image of hell that anything decent. They witness the heads on pikes, the effect of someone who has gone beyond the restraints of human civilization. Kurtz has numerous amounts of followers among the tribes living in these countries. It is as if the jungle had freed energy, which was imprisoned by civilization, from Kurtz. It allowed him to be stronger than the natives of these lands and thus enabled him to lead them into doing what he wanted. In “Heart of Darkness” it was to harvest as much ivory as possible. In Apocalypse Now it was to get rid of the enemy, the Vietcong.
Kurtz had developed a following, close to idolatry. Some of the White people such as the Russian in “Heart of Darkness” and the photojournalist in Apocalypse Now are like apostles to Kurtz. They talk to Marlow and Willard in similar terms about the marvellous poetry Kurtz writes and recites: “Oh, he enlarged my mind!”
Kurtz has gotten out of the boat of civilization. Both Marlow and Willard are somewhat in admiration of him. They take account of his freedom. They understand why he wants to get away from the entire lie and injustice of civilization which, to Kurtz, is “the horror, the horror”. Ultimately they both refuse to follow Kurtz. It is as if both, Marlow and Willard had concluded, unconsciously, that humans need to be in perfect balance between reason and passion, rational and irrational, spiritual and animal. They go back to their own reality, their own rationality. Both perform the ultimate act of reason. When Kurtz’s lover wants to know Kurtz’s last words, Marlow responds with a lie, “your name”. Willard like a true soldier abides by the orders, wakes up, stands up and terminates the colonel’s command.
Kurtz went too far. He always had a link with civilization through commerce or as a soldier. Civilization would not let him go astray as if he was one of its infant. Both Apocalypse Now and “Heart of Darkness” depict the struggle of someone who discovers what is beyond reason and civilization. This freedom can be very attractive but turns out to be very destructive as well.
Conrad, J. (1902). Heart of Darkness. New-York: Penguin Group
Coppola, F.F. (Director). (1979). Apocalypse Now (Motion Picture).