“The horror…the horror”, these were the words that echoed in my mind after experiencing Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Francis Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Together, both pieces have several parallels; this is largely due to the fact that Coppola’s Apocalypse Now is actually an adaptation of Heart of Darkness. While the film’s story mimics Conrad’s tale with its general plot points, there are also many differences.
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While the characters of both Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now parallel one another in their natures, this is also where their distinct differences lie. The Accountant in Heart of Darkness is only one of the countless characters that are in Africa with absolutely no purpose; his attire is always kept at its best and it appears as though his only accomplishment was teaching an African woman to clean his garments, treating her as a servant. To parallel with The Accountant, in Apocalypse Now, Kilgore is also viewed as a purposeless character. Kilgore’s sole purpose is to surf, yet somehow he manages to avoid death and even injury in the most treacherous places, causing his focus on the war to be nonexistent. Marlow in Heart of Darkness and Captain Willard from Apocalypse Now both have this mission of finding Kurtz, the man known as god; the man known to be as hollow as a barrel; the man to be found. In Heart of Darkness, Kurtz is the chief agent at the ivory company’s Inner Station at Stanley Falls. This so known “hallow man” is much taken back by the power that he has over the natives, starting out in the Congo attempting to give the natives better lives, these people learn to worship his ways. Due to his good intentions of helping these natives, he becomes isolated from his own civilization and is left to be on his own; he begins to retreat into a state of brutality. This clearly epitomizes that the basic human nature of Heart of Darkness is usually drowned out by the light of society. We can also see here that civilization is only superficial, in the way that the natives were more civilized then Kurtz himself. Marlow’s relationship with Kurtz after finding him begins as a professional one, but as we see when the story unfolds, Marlow slowly begins to identify with Kurtz, and by the end of the book we can see that Kurtz is what Marlow could have been and that Marlow is what Kurtz used to be. The two men see themselves in one another, a hard but interesting thing to experience.
Within Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now, the use of light and dark are both dazzling and unbelievable. The representation of light, dark black and white is embedded throughout the account of Heart of Darkness. In general, the symbolism of darkness usually implies evil or some type of mysterious unknown. Yet in the book we see that darkness is used as a symbol for truth, where the light is seen as a falsehood. The truth that Marlow discovers is within him, lying in the darkness. The truth was physically found for him in Congo which was known as the darkest spot on the map. With that specific example of how symbolism has been reversed, we also look into the light. The light comes from the civilization, also seen as a source of falsehood as well as being a form of dark business. The symbolism of white and black in Heart of Darkness is most apparent when it alludes to cultural and race; the white people being the lying, evil, civilized community, and the black natives being enlightened, good, and savages. The alternating lighting in many of the scenes of Apocalypse Now, specifically in the Do Lung scene symbolizes the insanity of the Vietnam War. Here we see that no one knows why they are really there, what is real, what is not, or where exactly the real evil is. Towards the end of the film, after Willard has killed Kurtz, we see Willard purposely placing half of his face in the shadow. This use of cinematography shows that he had united the two ideals; that of the military from which his mission spawned from the light, and the moral, yet uncompassionate ideal of Kurtz and the darkness of the jungle.
Another comparison that can be made between the two is the fact that they both have rivers, not the physical part, but the symbolic importance of these rivers. In Heart of Darkness, the Congo River is essential to the plot of the story, and is also essential to the Europeans in general when dealing with Africa. The river was the only means of travel for the Europeans to be able to get into Africa. In regard to the light and dark aspect, the river did not allow of efficient movement upstream, reflecting on the difficulty in Marlow’s journey within himself, and this struggle that he faces toward obtaining the truth. On the other hand, Marlow was capable of moving easily downstream, making his return to civilization easier and basically effortless. In Apocalypse Now, the Hung River is where we turn towards truth, a struggle with the events escalating in their level of severity and confusion. This river brought only madness and was a path to enlightenment, with every path to enlightenment, sacrifices were made and there would always be pain to overcome.
When it comes to noticing differences between the novel and the film, the most obvious one would have to come with the usage of drugs in Apocalypse Now. Heart of Darkness didn’t have a hippie-surfer character that was always tripping on acid. It didn’t have a man named Chef who wore a sailor shirt and smoked dope constantly. To me, the most surprising aspect of Apocalypse Now was that Lance, the surfer, survived throughout the entire ordeal, proving that during the release of the film, drugs were seen as good. I believe that Timothy Leary intended to use the film to explain how marijuana, shrooms and acid unlocked the key to immortality. This is probably the most apparent difference to me in the two, we see that Apocalypse Now was very interested in promoting to use of drugs while Heart of Darkness never went to that level.
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In addition to the rivers, and drug use, the idea of imperialism is only found in Heart of Darkness. The imperialism had a huge effect on the race relations in the novel; it is from this and also with civilizing the natives that the criminal neglect of the Company resides and is acceptable. The closest we get to anything like this is Apocalypse Now would be in the slaughter of the Vietnam Cong during the war.
The ties between Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Coppola’s Apocalypse Now are unmistakable. From the Congo River in Africa to the Nung River in Vietnam, Conrad’s ideals are not lost. In both, the ideas of good versus evil and symbolism of whiteness and darkness are all apparent. While there are many similarities between the two, as discussed there are many differences, from the usage of drugs to the descriptions of rivers. Heart of Darkness, Apocalypse Now, from one came the other, “there are two don’t you see?” Together, both pieces have countless parallels and we see that if it weren’t for the distinction of time, we would be unable to determine which came first. These parallels intrigue the reader or the viewer to want to engulf themselves into the depth of the other.
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