Apocalypse Now Vs Heart Of Darkness Essay

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Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now


      Heart of Darkness, a novel by Joseph Conrad, and Apocalypse Now, a

movie by Francis Ford Coppola can be compared and contrasted in many ways.

By focusing on their endings and on the character of Kurtz, contrasting the

meanings of the horror in each media emerges. In the novel the horror

reflects Kurtz tragedy of transforming into a ruthless animal whereas in

the film the horror has more of a definite meaning, reflecting the war and

all the barbaric fighting that is going on.


      Conrad's Heart of Darkness, deals with the account of Marlow, a

narrator of a journey up the Congo River into the heart of Africa, into the

jungle, his ultimate destination.  Marlow is commissioned as an ivory agent

and is sent to ivory stations along the river. Marlow is told that when he

arrives at the  inner station he is to bring back information about Kurtz,

the basis of this comparison and contrast in this paper, who is the great

ivory agent, and who is said to be sick. As Marlow proceeds away to the

inner station  "to the heart of the mighty big river.... resembling an

immense snake uncoiled, with its head in the sea, its body at rest curving

afar over a vast country and its tail lost in the depths of the land"

(Dorall 303), he hears rumors of Kurtz's unusual behavior of killing the

Africans. The behavior fascinates him, especially when he sees it first

hand: "and there it was black, dried, sunken, with closed eyelids- a head

that seemed to sleep at the top of that pole, and with the shrunken dry

lips showing a narrow white line of the teeth, was smiling too, smiling

continuously at some endless and jocose dream of that eternal

slumber"(Conrad 57). These heads that Marlow sees are first hand evidence

of Kurtz's unusual behavior. The novel ends with Kurtz "gradually engulfing

the atrocities of the other agents in his own immense horror"(Dorall 303).

At his dying moment, Kurtz utters "The Horror! The Horror!', which for the

novel are words reflecting the tragedy of Kurtz, and his transformation

into an animal.


      Apocalypse Now is a movie that is similarly structured to the book

but has many different meanings. The movie takes place during the Vietnam

War.  The narrator is Captain Willard, who is given a mission to locate and

kill Colonel Kurtz, who is said to be in Cambodia killing the Vietcong,

South Vietnamese and the Cambodians. Willard journeys up the Nung river to

find Kurtz, and eventually finds and kills him. Kurtz's words "The Horror!,

The Horror!" in the film have a different meaning from the novel. Their

meaning is not definite though and could only be understood by taking a

deeper look at the character of Kurtz this film.


      At the point when Willard, from Apocalypse Now, and Marlow from

Heart of Darkness, meet up with their Kurtzes, the two media break off from

their similar structure and start to develop differently.  The Kurtz in

Conrad's novel is told to be "a universal genius,...the flower of European

Civilization"(Conrad qtd. in LaBrasca 289).  Kurtz becomes a beacon of hope

for Marlow who is searching for him amid much heat, bugs, natives and

immense fog. Marlow approaches Kurtz's place of refuge, described as "the

shack of the 'universal genius' surrounded by a crude row of posts, holding

high the severed heads of 'rebels(Africans)"(Conrad qtd. in Labrasca 290).

From these words we can see that Kurtz is no ordinary man. Kurtz himself

was described as "an animated image of death carved out of old

ivory"(Conrad qtd. in Labrasca 290). Essentially Kurtz has succumbed to

disease and starvation, and is basically being eaten alive as he nears

death. He had such a greed for ivory also.  Kurtz exclaims "My intended, my

i vory, my station my river..."(Conrad 67). He believes that everything is

his that he had control. Marlow really can't believe that Kurtz thought

that everything belonged to him. Marlow's response "Everything belonged to

him. It made me hold my breath in expectation of hearing the wilderness

burst into a prodigious laughter..."(Conrad 67) gives us a sense that Marlow

really believes that Kurtz has taken on this idea that everything belongs

to him. Saying that everything belonged to him is quite insignificant

though. What we should know is what did he belong to, "How many powers of

darkness claimed him for their own"(Dorall 304). Kurtz was the victim of

the jungle he was in.


      Kurtz who set out for Africa carrying the light of European

civilization at its brightest, came face to face with the essential animal

nature of man, over which civilization is mere clothing, and that then,

with his typical ruthless honesty, he cast off his ideals and humanity and

dared to live at the other extreme, as the total animal Darwin and the

naturalists said he really was; he tore down the facade behind which the

other colonialists sheltered, and converted metaphor into brutal fact, not

only devouring Africa, as they did, but, very specifically, devouring

Africans.(Dorall 305-306)


       Dorall essentially summarizes the Kurtz of The Heart of Darkness.

Kurtz was out to bring civilization to the Africans, but in time is

engulfed by the animal like nature of everyone in the jungle, and he too

becomes brutal like them, eventually killing many of them off. At this

point we can bring in the famous quote mentioned earlier. The words "The

Horror! The Horror!" uttered by Kurtz can be reflected to his tragedy.

After a long period of time of taking on the animal nature and killing and

making the Africans suffer, he faces the consequences and eventually loses

his identity, who he really was and why he came there. As the critic Dorall

puts it "unable to be totally beast and never again able to be fully human,

he alternated between trying to return to the jungle and recalling in

grotesque terms his for idealism"(305) Kurtz  essentially has been

overtaken and can never go back to the ideal human state. "Oh he struggled,

he struggled....The shade of the original Kurtz frequented the bedside of the

hollow sham whose fate it was to be buried presently in the mould of

primeval earth.....but both the diabolic love and the unearthly hate of the

mysteries it had penetrated fought for the possession of that soul satiated

with primitive emotions, avid lying fame....of all the appearances of success

and power"(Dorall 306). Kurtz is lost amid all his power , and his soul is

to be taken. And as his soul is taken by a higher power, Kurtz's last words,

"The Horror! The Horror!"(Dorall 306), "epitomize" his whole experience of

killing and hurting the Africans. This Kurtz of Conrad's novel says his

last words as a message to the Africans and secondarily as a message to

himself because he sees the horror that he created for the Africans. Before

these words were uttered an explanation was never given to Marlow. It may

be hard to given a definite meaning to this quote as said by critic William

M. Hagen, but by looking at Marlow's reactions, we can speculate. The

horror may simply mean all the anguish caused to the Africa ns by Kurtz.

The horror may have different meanings to different people, but in my

opinion the horror was Kurtz's downfall, and his transformation from a sane

man into a totally different person, essentially an animal.


      Now we can shift gears to "Apocalypse Now" by Francis Ford Coppola.

In Conrad we saw that Kurtz was driven by greed for ivory. Coppola's Kurtz

though "has come to the crystalline revelation that there is some ultimate

truth in the willingness to employ absolutely ruthless means in the

accomplishment of one's will. It is a sociopathic insight and,

unfortunately,  the strongest viewpoint articulated in the film"(LaBrasca

291). Kurtz in the film sees that there is truth in being quite ruthless to

get something done. This same view is almost a similarity to the novel,

because the Kurtz in the novel, became quite ruthless ending up killing

many Africans, although he didn't plan to. In the Camp of Kurtz in the

movie there are very few human heads and they don't have the significance

as they did in the novel. Kurtz's problem in the movie is a military one.

The film is about war, not about colonization as from the novel. Kurtz is

the ideal commander, who basically is "destined to rise in the military

hiera rchy"(Dorall 306). This was his goal, till an event changed his life.

Kurtz was essentially sent up in Cambodia to inoculate the children, and

was horrified to find out that the Vietcong cut off all the inoculated arms.

At this point Kurtz comes to face his own darkness. He says "that a war can

be fought successfully only if one learns to come to terms with 'horror and

moral terror'"(Dorall 306). Kurtz turns his men into "pure fighting

machines"(Dorall 306) and becomes a ruthless person. Kurtz claims that one

can win if one eliminates all human feeling in favor of total ruthlessness.

Kurtz does eliminate all human feeling, and eventually as we see, does

become ruthless. As in the Heart of Darkness, this Kurtz has found the

consequence of fighting like an animal and rejecting his old ways.

Essentially life for him has become meaningless and quite empty. And also

as in the novel, this Kurtz goes to face the darkness and is ultimately

engulfed by it. Kurtz can be represented as "the sick god of his tribe"(Do

rall 307). All the people of Cambodia see him as their leader. Willard is

sent here to kill Kurtz and can be identified as the "Quester"(Dorall 307),

so as to free the people from Kurtz rule. As Willard kills Kurtz we hear

the famous quote as from the novel. "The Horror! The Horror!" in the novel

is much more simple though. Marlow was sent to bring Kurtz back, not to

kill him. Going back to the movie we can see that after Willard kills Kurtz

he doesn't take over his rule but leaves. Now we can go back the quote. In

the movie "The Horror! The Horror!" has much more of a definite meaning

than in the novel, although it is not something that we can easily



      It's a search-a search through the bloody holocaust that is our

nightmare of Vietnam, a search through all the myths and motifs of Western

literature and movies, a search along a glistening river surrounded by

shadows, a search toward death and dissolution.(Wilmington 288)


      Wilmington can give us some categorization of what the horror might

mean in the movie, but the only way to get the definition and make it our

definition is to actually see the horror around Kurtz. The war that is

going on is very much the horror. All the fighting and barbaric atmosphere

in the eyes of Kurtz indicate a continuing horror throughout the ending.

"The way to judgment lies through vicarious violence. Judgment is self

judgment"(Hagen 294). Hagen's argument that judgment lies through violence,

basically tells what is happening in the war. Judgment is what you judge of

yourself. The horror of what is going on around Kurtz is terrible.  As laid

out in this paper, we can see that the Kurtz of the movie is quite

different from the Kurtz in the novel. In summary, we can say that the two

Kurtzes often did act and talk alike. Both of them asked a higher authority

to send them to their assignment, and both of them had broken away from

their original selves and have become people they didn't intend

 to be. Willard puts it in words for both Kurtzes saying "He broke away

from all that[human society] and then broke away from himself'(Dorall 304).

In conclusion, in both the novel and the film, "Kurtz is little more than a

voice, which instructs Marlow-Willard for some days and finally expires

after muttering the now famous last words, 'The Horror! The Horror!'

"(Dorall 304).


      As all this evidence proves, Francis Ford Coppola had a similar

mind pattern to that of Joseph Conrad's, but chose to extend his ending

differently, by having Kurtz killed rather than dying and also by taking on

a new meaning for the horror. This meaning being the war that is going on

and of the terrible fighting and barbaric atmosphere. Reading the book and

watching the movie tell us many things about each Kurtz, and there are some

things which we can deduce by ourselves. Well, as concluded we can see that

Kurtz was an animal to some extent. Bringing back the idea of a

transformation, we know that he once was a sane man. To know if he really

meant to do what he did we need to formulate our own opinion. I don't think

he did mean to do it, but nevertheless it was done and Kurtz in either

media was an animal.

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Coppola's movie, “Apocalypse Now” are unmistakable. Apocalypse Now's correctness in following the story line of the Heart of Darkness is amazing although the settings of each story are from completely different location and time periods. From the jungle of the Congo in Africa to the Nung river in Vietnam, Joseph Conrad's ideals are not lost. In both the book and the movie, the ideas of good and evil, whiteness, darkness, and racism are clear. Also, characterization in both the novel and the movie are very similar. Both The Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now examine the good and evil in human…show more content…

Another example of the movie expressing good and evil is when General Corman says, "Because there's a conflict in every human heart between the rational and the irrational, between good and evil. The good does not always triumph. Sometimes the dark side overcomes what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature." This quote explains what General Corman believes is the good and evil in every human and how the good is the rational thinking.
While the evil is an irrational thinking.

Traditional interpretations of light and darkness tend to associate light with goodness and purity, and darkness with evil and corruption. Marlow describes his interpretation of the darkness in his journey with these words, "True, by this time it was not a blank space any more...a place of darkness. But there was in it one river especially, a mighty big river... resembling an immense snake uncoiled, with its head in the sea, its body at rest curving afar over a vast country, and its tail lost in the depths of the land...the snake had charmed me." (p. 11) However, in Heart of Darkness, the definitions of lightness and darkness has been reversed. Darkness can be interpreted to stand for the purity and innocence of the natives lifestyle, while lightness can be seen as the corruption, greed, and exploitative ways of the white men. The natives lived by the code of nature in a sort of "darkness," in that they had not been exposed to the corruption of the

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