Heart of Darkness and its film adaptation, Apocalypse Now, are the same story, but have differences in certain details. Both are a story within a story and both feature relatively the same characters. However, Heart of Darkness is about a man named Marlow, who was sent on a mission to find and bring back to civilization a man named Kurtz while Marlow was taking ivory up the Congo River. Apocalypse Now outlines the travels in Vietnam of a man named Willard, whose primary mission is to find Kurtz and destroy him. Although the film tells the same story, details have been changed to fit the medium of film.
For example, the scene of Marlow telling a story to a group of men in the book was changed to Willard receiving his mission right away. Also, the scenes were much more graphic in the film than in the book; Coppola opted to use visually stimulating elements while Conrad simply told a story. Apocalypse Now followed the framework of heart of darkness, the main characters of Marlow/Willard and Kurtz are multifaceted, and the events at the end of both the novel and the film, as well as the darkness that is implied, suggest a deeper meaning to Kurtz’s final words.
Heart of Darkness is an autobiographical account of Charlie Marlow and his journey up the Congo River in the nineteenth century. The story begins with a narrator other than Marlow explaining that Marlow was sitting with a group of men on a boat. Marlow then begins to tell the story of when he was sent on a mission to find a Mr. Kurtz and bring him back to civilization under the guise of the search for ivory. Kurtz was educating the natives and sending back several shipments of ivory. When Marlow found Kurtz, Kurtz had been changed. He was now as barbaric as the natives.
Marlow took Kurtz to the boat to take him back home. While the boat was being repaired, Kurtz died. Apocalypse Now told the same basic story , but with details slightly changed. Benjamin Willard, a captain in the United States Army, was sent on a mission to find Kurtz and murder him. Kurtz was described as a mad man who had deserted the military in order to form his own army. Kurtz sought power. Willard then begins his journey, like Marlow, up the river. When Willard arrives at Kurtz’s stronghold, Willard is taken to talk to Kurtz.
Willard sees the savagery of the island, and carries out his mission. Francis Ford Coppola, director of Apocalypse Now, takes Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and sets the story on a modern stage. The framework of the story is the same in both versions; a man is sent to find another man, having to boat up river to do so. The structure of the narration of Heart of Darkness could be the most important component of the book. According to Linda Costanzo Cahir, the structure of the narration of Heart of Darkness is cinematic. (184) There is an “unseen” narrator, a narrator other than Marlow.
Apocalypse Now has narration similar to that of the book. Besides Willard, the other narrator is the camera. Heart of Darkness is framed by the same opening and closing scene; Marlow on the boat, legs crossed and palms turned outward, retelling a story of which he was to find a man and bring him back to civilization. The scene takes place on board the Nellie on the Thames River. Apocalypse Now does not frame the tale in this way. The thought of Willard, depicted throughout the film as a strong and determined man, retelling his story in such a quaint manner is comedic.
The sense of strength is recurring throughout the film and suits it well. The film and novel are set in different places. Apocalypse Now is set in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War while Heart of Darkness is set in the Belgian Congo in the nineteenth century. Although the settings are different, each version feels eerily similar. The audience can feel the darkness and the danger that is depicted in each version. For example, in the scene when sticks are being thrown at the men on the boat, the men on the boat think the sticks are arrows.
When they determine that they are not, everyone relaxes, until a spear is thrown, and a man dies. This scene is the same in both the film and the book, and in the mind’s eye, it looks as though the scene took place is the same spot, when actually the scene took place in two different rivers. Coppola clung to the framework of Conrad’s tale. There are slight differences between versions, but the end result and meaning are the same. The quote of the critic is true. Coppola did stick to the basic framework of Conrad’s tale. Perhaps Coppola did believe that it would make his film as great as its inspiration.
However, several details that were present in Heart of Darkness were changed or omitted in Apocalypse Now. For example, Willard murders Kurtz at the end of the film, whereas in the book, Marlow has orders to take Kurtz back to civilization. It is important to note that even though there are slight distortions, the film preserves essential scenes and meanings from the book. The characters of Marlow and Kurtz in Heart of Darkness and Willard and Kurtz in Apocalypse Now are essential to both versions and to the story as a whole. Conrad’s Marlow and Coppola’s Willard are essentially the same character.
Despite the obvious; both Marlow and Willard were on a mission to find Kurtz, the characters of Marlow and Willard both are men who are self-assured. They are both comfortable in leadership positions; Willard was a captain in the army, Marlow was the captain of the boat he took up the river to find Kurtz and transport the ivory. They are also both curious and judgmental. It has been argued that Willard is a “murderer confronting a murderer. ” (Casebook, 194) It is suggested that Willard does not have morals, but Marlow does. It is true that Marlow does not murder Kurtz, but this character is not without fault.
In Conrad’s tale, Marlow begins to lie, an act that, at the beginning of the story, he detests. If Marlow had morals, he would have stayed true to himself and would not have begun to lie. The only moral difference between Willard and Marlow was that Willard was first introduced as having no morals and Marlow was introduced as the opposite. In the end, however, both Marlow’s and Willard’s stories have similar truths. Both confronted darkness in its purest form, in man. Both characters had been changed, perhaps not for the better, but changed nonetheless.
As for Conrad’s Kurtz and Coppola’s Kurtz, Conrad’s character is seen mostly through the dialogue of others, while Coppola’s Kurtz is a tangible character that the view can see and hear. Both characters, however, are selfish and deluded by the time Marlow, or Willard, meets him. The two men’s professional lives are reversed in Coppola’s film. In the film, it is Kurtz who is the dedicated serviceman while the audience, nor Kurtz for that matter, is never certain of Willard’s position or dedication. This is evident when Kurtz asks Willard, “Are you an assassin?
” Willard then replies, “I’m a soldier. ” This is when Kurtz corrects him with, “You’re neither. You’re an errand boy sent by grocery clerks to collect a bill. ” In the book, it is Marlow who has the definite profession, while the reader is not quite sure what Kurtz’s role is. (Greiff, 486) Kurtz traveled to a world where he wanted to change the natives for the better. Instead, Kurtz became entangled in their world, frequently killing others for ivory. He became a savage. Kurtz noticed the darkness and wanted to bring light in. However, he never got that far.
This point is made in both the novel and the film. Darkness is in everyone, at the center of the human experience, and it existed in Kurtz. (“Heart of Darkness”, 361) The events of the end of both the book and the film explain the meaning of darkness, in one’s environment as well as in oneself. Events that immediately preceded Kurtz’s death in Heart of Darkness include Kurtz trying to escape the boat that is taking him to civilization and go back into the wilderness. Marlow lies to him to get him back onto the boat. Also, Kurtz mentions that darkness is everywhere, including in oneself.
The events that immediately preceded Kurtz’s death in Apocalypse Now include Willard being taken prisoner by savages and a cow being slaughtered. In the film, the cow being slaughtered gives a lasting impression of Kurtz’s final words, “The horror. ” The cow was slaughtered as Kurtz was being killed by Willard. The death of the cow, as well as the death of Kurtz, symbolizes Kurtz’s last words. Kurtz realized in his final moments that darkness and horror was all around him, and that, in a manner of speaking, he created that darkness for himself. In the novel, there is nothing but darkness.
This also gives a lasting impression of Kurtz’s last words. The darkness can be equally as horrific as slaughter, especially if the darkness is in oneself. In the film, the events that give credence to Kurtz’s last words are literal, whereas in the novel, the darkness that is spoken of is figurative. The events in the film show the viewer what horror looks like, while the events in the novel show what horror feels like. The cow being slaughtered was not present in the novel, only an idea of horror to ponder. The lying that Marlow partakes in in the novel shows the reader that darkness can indeed reside in everyone.
Marlow stated that he detested lying, but at the end of the book, Marlow said that he lied to Kurtz’s Intended. He told her that Kurtz’s last words were her name. It is mentioned that Kurtz saw a vision or an image just before he spoke his final words, but perhaps this image was not what Kurtz was referring to when he cried out, “The horror! The horror! ” (Conrad, 130) with his dying breath. Perhaps Kurtz meant the darkness that can overcome even the purest of men. In essence, Kurtz’s last words were a summation of the theme of the story.
Marlow’s journey, or Willard’s for that matter, was not just to travel to find a man, it was a journey within himself. Marlow mentioned at the beginning of the novel that he was retelling a story of self-discovery. (Guerard, 40) On that journey to find Kurtz, he found himself. Marlow returned to civilization a changed man. The framework for the film is the same as the novel, Marlow/Willard and Kurtz each found the darkness within themselves and were changed by the discovery, and Kurtz’s last words were rife with meaning because of the culmination of events.
The film and the novel might have different circumstances, but the end result is the same: the theme of darkness made it’s presence known throughout both versions and the main characters were changed because of it. There are certain parts of everyone that some would like to keep hidden. It is these darker parts of the Self that one must learn to control, or one’s world could fall apart. – Cahir, Linda Costanzo. “Narratological Parallels in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. ” Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness: A Casebook. ed. Gene M. Moore. New York: Oxford University Press Inc. 2004. 183-194.
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