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 ivory, 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 Africans 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 hierarchy”(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”(Dorall 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 categorize. 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). Read about the significance of the jungle
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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