Apocalypse Now / Heart of Darkness

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Apocalypse Now / Heart of Darkness

When Joseph Conrad sat down to write Heart of Darkness over a century ago he decided to set his tale amidst his own country’s involvement in the African Congo. Deep in the African jungle his character would make his journey to find the Captain gone astray. Over eighty years later Francis Ford Coppola’s Willard would take his journey not in Afica but in the jungles of South Asia. Coppola’s Film, Apocalypse Now uses the backdrop of the American Vietnam War yet the similarities between the Conrad’s novel and Coppola’s film remains constant and plenty.

In 1899 when Conrad first published his story in Blackwood’s Magazine the British Empire was the dominant global empire. To the common British man or any British man the emblem of savagry was indeed the place they deemed as the “Dark Continent” of Africa. The people that lived there had an entirely different style of living that did not involved the “civilized” methods of the British empire. The natives had not the manners, clothing, technowledgy nor skin color of Conrad’s people. The environment in which they lived of much difference then the British isle. It was hot, humid, dense, exotic filled with dangerous creatures and most of all it was foreign. When Francis Ford Coppola began work on his film Apocalypse Now the dominant power in the world was no longer the British but the United States of America, the same state that was coming off a bloody war fought in Vietnam. To Coppola’s United States Vietnam was barbarity. Soldiers returned with loss of limbs, loss of mind, dead or missing. Stories of rape, pillaging, burning and torture seeped out just on the part of the Vietnamese “savages” but of the civilized American soldiers, a testement to their envelopment in the Heart of Darkess that is war. Their unravelling of what makes them to be considered civilized and the exotic backdrop is not unlike the British and their exploits in Africa that go along with Conrad’s novel.

The parellel’s between Conrad’s and Coppola’s chosen settings even go right down into the backbone of the politcal background. British and United States policy has been to extend their hand of uprighteousness culture onto another. This is done by a brutal conquering and then reformation. In Apocalypse Now the line was used “Cut’em in half with a machine gun and give’m a band-aid.” Destroy them and then fix them up or at very least give the appearance of help for world stage.
The man known as Marlow is the ever thinking expeditionist in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Captain Benjamin Willard is the rugged soldier that exists as Marlow’s likeness in Copolla’s film . There are direct similiarities to these two men other then the fact that they are from dominant angelo powers and are directed on a mission to find a man gone missing. Both of these men are insightful and have an eye looking to those around them. Marlow doesn’t entirely trust the company he works for the same that can be said about Willard as he does declare their words to be “Lies all Lies.” Willard and Marlow are insightful and while there is more evidence in Conrad’s work because it is text , the Apocalypse Now is continously feeding words narrated from the mouth of Willard. By the same notion these two protagonists are skilled story tellers and again there is more evidence of this in Heart of Darkness as uses verbage rather then visuals but it must be considered that Coppola’s film is being told by the very character involved: Willard. It is indeed his tale.

The man that is the obejective both men seek conviently carries the same name, Kurtz. Like the two protagonists he is essentially one in the same in both works. Kurtz is the embodiment of a refined man that has succumbed to the nature of savargy. In their respective jungles both of these men have befriended the natives and even taken a leadership role to these people yet the people, the jungle has in turn assymlated Kurtz into “darkness.” Conrad’s Kurtz has become what is considered unkempt and wildly. While he has been able to use his relationship with the natives to become extremely successful in the ivory trade he has aggrevated his British interests. Coppola’s Kurtz has too diverted from what is considered the norm in his society yet through this diversion using the very same methods of the savage native he bypasses the rules of war he is given. In doing so he is able to become successful in what he was assigned to do: kill the enemy. Like his parellel in Heart of Darkness he brings about the wrath of his nation’s interest.

From Heart of Darkness and Apocalpse Now the primevil nature of humankind is witnessed by means of the characters, societies and environments foriegn to the Western world. While a message can be drawn by any reader or scholar of any nation these two works are undoubably made for the Western culture they were developed in. There has long since been an eceptionalism that Europe and most recently America has carried throughout the world, at the core Heart of Darkness embodies this carrying it over to it’s progeny Apocalypse Now.