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Apocalypse Now And Heart Of Darkness

Apocalypse Now And Heart Of Darkness Placed in various time periods and settings, the novel Heart of Darkness, written by Joseph Conrad, and the movie Apocalypse Now, produced and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, both create the same mysterious journey with various similarties and differences. The journeys mystery lies in the scene; it is one down a river by boat, deep in the jungle. The jungle is populated mainly with wild animals and a few natives. The reason for the expedition is to search for a sick man named Kurtz, who is followed by the natives and his men from their previous missions. In Heart of Darkness, the journey to find Kurtz, who is an ivory trader who has gone too deep into the jungles of Africa in search of ivory, while in Apocalypse Now, Kurtz is a high-ranking officer in the military who has disobeyed orders and is now fighting the Vietnam war in Cambodia with his unit in his own fashion.

The protagonists in both the novel and the movie go through various changes while on their mission to find Kurtz. Marlow, who is the rookie captain of a ship, slowly begins to envision Kurtz as an immortal figure. In the movie, Willards state of mind ranges from being a demented soldier to a crazed assassin. Although they are on the same mission, Marlow and Willard face terribly different factors that affect their journey. The difference of experiences, location, technology, communication, and mindset all affect each character in different ways.

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Although they may have faced varying environments, in the end the result was the same, Kurtz is discovered as a sick and possibly demented individual. Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now are two strikingly similar yet subtly different stories that end in the same fashion. Since Heart of Darkness was based in the 1890s, Marlow experiences many things due to the lack of modern amenities and modern technologies. For example, a damaged steamer delays Marlows journey for almost three weeks. The delay is caused because Marlow and his crew could not get the rivets they needed to fix the steamer. A phone or radio could have helped Marlow fix his steamer earlier and gotten onto the water quicker. Three weeks might have been the difference between life and death for Mr.

Kurtz. Another example of a lack of communication is the communication between stations: Is he alone there? Yes, answered the manager; “he sent his assistant down the river with a note to me in these terms: “Clear this poor devil out of the country, and dont bother sending another more of that sort. I had rather be alone than have the kind of men you can dispose of with me.” It was more than a year ago. (Conrad 100) If the communication between stations would have been better, Marlow may have known the conditions the station was in, and the area around it. Information about Kurtzs authority over the natives also could have helped save the life of a member of Marlows crew. Communication with Kurtzs station would have benefited Marlow and his mission, by saving precious time and lives. Another modern amenity Marlow could have used were detailed maps and reconnaissance.

These tools would have allowed Marlow access to solving geographic issues preventing him from reaching Kurtzs station, such as a sandbank and a grassy islet. The sandbank and the grassy islet were what caused Marlow and his crew to be sitting ducks for the natives to shoot at. The necessary modern amenities may have made Marlows journey a shorter and safer one. During the times in which Apocalypse Now is based, many aspects of daily life evolved. These changes have profoundly affected civilized life, while those still out in the jungle may not have felt any of these effects at all.

Willard dealt with different issues than Marlow because technology solved the many problems that Marlow faced. Willard did not have to deal with a lack of communication or reconnaissance, all of this was provided by radio, phone, and reconnaissance planes. Willard also knew about the conditions of Kurtzs location, he knew the natives followed Kurtz, and that it was going to be a gruesome scene when he arrived. As he arrived up river, Willard saw bodies hanging from ropes and was not the least bit affected by it. Weapons were also an aspect that was different from the movie and the book.

There were greater fatalities in the movie because guns and bombs are far deadlier than arrows or spears. In fact, Willard was affected by the shear number of deaths he witnessed, especially the death of the character played by Lawerence Fishburne, who was just a child. Technology affected Willard just as the lack of technology affected Marlow in various instances. Although there are many differences between the journeys in Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now, there are a few similarities. A noticeable similarity in the journeys is that both Willard and Marlows ships get shot at by the natives. What makes the connection between the movie and the book is that in both stories the boats get shot with arrows, and a crewmember dies. Another major similarity is the fact that the natives at the end of the journey follow Kurtz as though he were a god.

In the book, the natives listen to the orders of Kurtz and attack the boat to stop them from taking him. In the movie, there are a few signs that Kurtz is highly respected by the natives. In one scene as Willard comes up the river he sees a large wooden head, which resembles Kurtz. Another example is the scene where Willard comes out of Kurtzs room, and the natives looked stunned. Then Willard walks through the crowd of natives and they all make way for him as he passes through. The natives are clearly in a state of disarray as their leader, their savior, had died.

In …

Apocalypse Now and Heart of Darkness

Inherent inside every human soul is a savage evil side that remains repressed
by society. Often this evil side breaks out during times of isolation from our
culture, and whenever one culture confronts another. History is loaded with
examples of atrocities that have occurred when one culture comes into contact
with another. Whenever fundamentally different cultures meet, there is often a
fear of contamination and loss of self that leads us to discover more about our
true selves, often causing perceived madness by those who have yet to discover.

The Puritans left Europe in hopes of finding a new world to welcome them and
their beliefs. What they found was a vast new world, loaded with Indian cultures
new to them. This overwhelming cultural interaction caused some Puritans to go
mad and try to purge themselves of a perceived evil. This came to be known as
the Salem witch trials.

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During World War II, Germany made an attempt to overrun Europe. What happened
when the Nazis came into power and persecuted the Jews in Germany, Austria and
Poland is well known as the Holocaust. Here, humans evil side provides one of
the scariest occurrences of this century. Adolf Hitler and his Nazi counterparts
conducted raids of the ghettos to locate and often exterminate any Jews they
found. Although Jews are the most widely known victims of the Holocaust, they
were not the only targets. When the war ended, 6 million Jews, Slavs, Gypsies,
homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Communists, and others targeted by the Nazis,
had died in the Holocaust. Most of these deaths occurred in gas chambers and
mass shootings. This gruesome attack was motivated mainly by the fear of
cultural intermixing which would impurify the “Master Race.”
Joseph Conrads book, The Heart of Darkness and Francis Coppolas movie,
Apocalypse Now are both stories about Mans journey into his self, and the
discoveries to be made there. They are also about Man confronting his fears of
failure, insanity, death, and cultural contamination.

During Marlows mission to find Kurtz, he is also trying to find himself. He,
like Kurtz had good intentions upon entering the Congo. Conrad tries to show us
that Marlow is what Kurtz had been, and Kurtz is what Marlow could become. Every
human has a little of Marlow and Kurtz in them. Marlow says about himself, “I
was getting savage (Conrad),” meaning that he was becoming more like Kurtz.

Along the trip into the wilderness, they discover their true selves through
contact with savage natives.

As Marlow ventures further up the Congo, he feels like he is traveling back
through time. He sees the unsettled wilderness and can feel the darkness of its
solitude. Marlow comes across simpler cannibalistic cultures along the banks.

The deeper into the jungle he goes, the more regressive the inhabitants seem.

Kurtz had lived in the Congo, and was separated from his own culture for quite
some time. He had once been considered an honorable man, but the jungle changed
him greatly. Here, secluded from the rest of his own society, he discovered his
evil side and became corrupted by his power and solitude. Marlow tells us about
the Ivory that Kurtz kept as his own, and that he had no restraint, and was ” a
tree swayed by the wind (Conrad, 209).” Marlow mentions the human heads
displayed on posts that “showed that Mr. Kurtz lacked restraint in the
gratification of his various lusts (Conrad, 220).” Conrad also tells us “his
nerves went wrong, and caused him to preside at certain midnight dances ending
with unspeakable rights, which were offered up to him (Conrad, 208),” meaning
that Kurtz went insane and allowed himself to be worshipped as a god. It appears
that while Kurtz had been isolated from his culture, he had become corrupted by
this violent native culture, and allowed his evil side to control him.

Marlow realizes that only very near the time of death, does a person grasp the
big picture. He describes Kurtzs last moments “as though a veil had been rent
(Conrad, 239).” Kurtzs last “supreme moment of complete knowledge (Conrad,
239),” showed him how horrible the human soul really can be. Marlow can only
speculate as to what Kurtz saw that caused him to exclaim “The horror! The
horror,” but later adds that “Since I peeped over the edge myself, I understand
better the meaning of his stare it was wide enough to embrace the whole
universe, piercing enough to penetrate all the hearts that beat in the darkness
he had summed up, he had judged (Conrad, 241).” Marlow guesses that Kurtz
suddenly knew everything and discovered how horrible the duplicity of man can be.

Marlow learned through Kurtzs death, and he now knows that inside every human
is this horrible, evil side.

Francis Coppolas movie, Apocalypse Now, is based loosely upon Conrads book.

Captain Willard is a Marlow who is on a mission into Cambodia during the Vietnam
war to find and kill an insane Colonel Kurtz. Coppola’s Kurtz, as he experienced
his epiphany of horror, was an officer and a sane, successful, brilliant leader.

Like Conrads Kurtz, Coppola shows us a man who was once very well respected,
but was corrupted by the horror of war and the cultures he met.

Coppola tells us in Hearts of Darkness that Kurtzs major fear is “being white
in a non white jungle (Bahr).” The story Kurtz tells Willard about the Special
Forces going into a village, inoculating the children for polio and going away,
and the communists coming into the village and cutting off all the children’s
inoculated arms, is the main evidence for this implication in that film. This is
when Kurtz begins to go mad, he “wept like some grandmother” when, called back
by a villager, he saw the pile of little arms, a sophisticated version of the
“escalating horrors.” What Kurtz meant by “escalating horrors” is the Vietnamese
armys senseless decapitation, torture, and the like. Kurtz is facing a new
culture and has a terrible time dealing with it. This was the beginning of his

“All America contributed to the making of Colonel Kurtz, just as all Europe
produced Mr. Kurtz. Both Kurtzes are idealized in their function as eyewitnesses
to the atrocities. What is reflected is the threat of loss of self, loss of
centrality, and the displacement of Western culture from the perceived center of
history by those whom it has enslaved and oppressed (Worthy 24).” This tells us
that the evil side and the madness in both Kurtzes was brought out by the fear
of new cultures different from their own, and their inability to deal with this
fear. The disconnection between the opening words of Kurtz’s report “By the
simple exercise of our will, we can exert a power for good practically
unbounded” and the note on the last page, “Exterminate all the brutes!”
illustrates the progressive externalization of Kurtz’s fear of “contamination,”
the personal fear of loss of self which colonialist whites saw in the
“uncivilized,” seemingly regressive lifestyle of the natives. Gradually, the
duplicity of man and reality merged for the two Kurtzes, one in the Congo, and
one in Vietnam. As this happened, the well defined cultural values
masculine/feminine and self/other that had specific segregated roles, could not
be sustained in the Congo or in Vietnam. “For the Americans in Vietnam, as for
the colonialists in Africa, madness is the result of the disintegration of
abstract boundaries held to be absolute (Worthy 24).”
“As it attempts to confront the ‘insanity’ of the war through Kurtz’ s madness,
that of the filmmakers, and the madness of U.S. culture, Hearts of Darkness
exposes the contradictions between the inherent hierarchy and inequality within
the cultural forces of the United States and official democratic principles,
which led to the perception that it could waste what it viewed as insignificant
little people and preserve its own image in the world. Along with that is the
growing realization, since the Tet Offensive of 1968, that the U.S. was somehow
way off the mark (Worthy 24).” American Culture views it self as “correct”, and
we see ourselves as powerful police of the world. Our culture looked down upon
the Vietnamese because they were more simple than us, just as Europe and Marlow
looked down on the Africans. Believing ourselves to be superior, we had a lot of
trouble dealing with the discovery that we are not.

Coppola makes a point to show us that the Chief of a boat armed to the teeth was
killed by a native in a tree who threw a spear. Not even an “advanced” Navy boat
can defend itself against some “simple” natives armed only with spears. This
opens Captain Willards eyes to the horror of the situation he now finds
himself in.

Even more intriguing, however, is the similarity between the transformation of
the characters in Apocalypse Now, and the cast and crew that created it. In
Hearts of Darkness, (a documentary about the making of Apocalypse Now.) Eugene
Coppola becomes the narrator ( a Marlow or Captain Willard) and Francis becomes

“Francis believed that only if he could duplicate Willards experience, could he
understand his moral struggle. In other words, he had to lose control of his own
life before he could find the answers to the questions that his narrative asked
(Worthy 24).” Coppolas main horror was his fear of producing a pretentious
movie. “Eleanor repeatedly calls the making of Apocalypse Now a journey into
Coppola’s inner self. Coppola, like Kurtz, is regarded as a deity. Moreover,
while Willard stalks Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, Coppola stalks himself, raising
questions which he feels compelled to answer but cannot, finally announcing his
desire to “shoot himself. ” He means suicide, but the cinematic connotation of
the term, “to shoot,” jointly criticizes both the U.S. and Coppola’s film for
exercising a demented self-absorption (Worthy 24).” Coppola had to deal with
perhaps the most agonizing of his troubles: his shriveling self-confidence. As
the budget soared, as the producers worried, as the crew and actors grew
restless and dispassionate, Coppola worried that he did not have what it takes
to finish the film. He struggled with the ending, with his own creative ability,
and with his sense of purpose.

Martin Sheen, who plays Captain Willard, is the one who really faces the horror.

During the filming he has a nervous breakdown and later a heart attack. Some of
his co-actors believed that Martin was becoming Captain Willard, and was
experiencing the same journey of self discovery.

We live our lives sheltered in our own society, and our exposure to cultures
outside of our own is limited at best. Often, the more technologically advanced
cultures look down upon those that they deem to be simpler. On the occasion that
some member of one culture does come into contact with another, simpler culture,
a self discovery happens. Both cultures realize that deep down inside, all
humans are essentially the same. We all posses a good and an evil side, and no
culture, not matter how “advanced,” is exempt from that fact.. This discovery
often causes madness as this evil side is allowed out. Only those who have
completed the “journey into self” can understand the actions of people such as
Kurtz. They are alone in this world of horror. The Horror!
Works Cited
1. Apocalypse Now. Dir. Francis Coppola. With Martin Sheen, Robert Duval, and
Marlon Brando. Zeotrope, 1979.

2. Conrad, James. Heart of Darkness and Other Tales. Great Britain, BPC
paperbacks ltd. 1990.

3. Hearts of Darkness. Dir. Fax Bahr, George Hickenlooper. Paramount, 1991.


5. Worthy, Kim, “Hearts of Darkness: Making art, making history, making money,
making `Vietnam’.”.,Vol. 19, Cineaste, 12-01-1992, pp 24.

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