Heart of Darkness & Apocalypse Now: text vs. film

Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now are two very separate entities, but in my view, Coppola played with the ideas from the original text in some meaningful ways. Please choose one aspect (a character, motif, scene, theme, etc.) of the text, and comment on how Coppola adapted it in the film. Include your evaluation of the success of this adaptation as well as a description and analysis of the ways in which the text and movie interact.

Please post your response before class on Friday 15 May. The assignment has a weight of 3 (standard 3 / standard 5 / standard 6). Please respond directly to this post (choose “leave a reply”). There is no specific minimum or maximum length, but try to aim for 250 – 500 words. You may wish to read the posts by last year’s eleventh graders and continue the discussion begun by one of them, but feel free to ignore these if you prefer.


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20 Responses to Heart of Darkness & Apocalypse Now: text vs. film

  1. Armando says:

    A Man Called Kurtz
    Armando Rivas
    In my opinion, Francis Copolla, in his masterly adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness hits it right on the nail. Primarily, the main themes explored in the book are not lost but rather shed in a new light. There is a certain amount of distancing and delineation from the original piece in that rather than the grotesque setting of colonial Africa one is thrust into the far wilder and violent Vietnamese War. The original atmosphere isn’t lost, but rather transformed into something far more lurid and vibrant, and the emblematic, enigmatic Captain Kurtz is the perfect example of this. This epic villain, at least in Copolla’s Apocalypse Now, goes beyond simply adapting the character and re-skinning him. Perhaps it’s the movie itself, with the action and the imagery, but I truly believe that Kurtz as a film character is well rounded. He feels like a living breathing character and his aura of poetic power is much more enticing. In HoD, Kurtz fills his role, perfectly creating tension and suspense, surmounting himself through mystery, but by the climax of the novel one feels he is more of an idea, an abstract concept rather than a character. Important to keep in mind, both mediums have very different portrayals in mind and create different moods around their respective Kurtz. Kurtz in the book feels more evil, more red eyed, but simultaneously he feels much less important. In the movie, Kurtz is not only more believable, perhaps less impacting, but he is also more memorable. This can be clearly noted in three particular sections. The introduction of Kurtz at the base and in the boat, his idolization by the war photographer, and his actual screen time, especially the epic finale immortalize him as an icon of cinema.
    Kurtz is mentioned early on in the book, and if anything, Conrad does a spectacular job creating a mysterious veil around him. In the briefing in Brussels, there are allusions to his unsound methods, and the exploration of his manuscript, the power of his voice as well as his disregard for the natives. From a start one can tell that there is something off about him, but one doesn’t know just what. In the inner camp he is mentioned again by the manager and his uncle in seclusion from the group, and there is some mention of his fortification in the jungle. This is all quite good, but the movie does a better job. From a start, the fact that Millard is told that he most assassinate Kurtz for his “unsound methods” strikes the viewer and proves that Kurtz is a notorious figure. His photograph is especially unnerving. He is shown as a perfect soldier. His photograph shows a biuret, perfect cleft chin and a strong sharp expression, nothing in the regard of the animalistic Kurtz constantly alluded to. During the boat ride, Kurtz’s battle report is read, and again, he is demonstrated as a flawless tactician. But from a start there again is that disquieting feeling that there is something wrong with him. It is disclosed that he turned down an offer as a general simply to learn parachuting. It is implied that he was meant for the field and that he lives for the thrill of battle. If anything, the one way the book introduces Kurtz in a more effective way is in his reference as The Voice. There is a god like feature to this honorary title, and this definitely props up Kurtz as an epic figure. In the movie he is more mysterious, but in the book he sounds more like some fallen deity. If there is one section where both mediums are on par is when the war photographer/Russian sailor appears. Both these characters are successful in alluding to Kurtz as an epic, honest and dangerous figure. Both do this in much a similar fashion. Both these whimsical jesters portray Kurtz as capturing figure. Both talk how the man’s voice is so powerful and how he speaks truth. The psychological entrancement of these two men show just how powerful Kurtz is, and all before he is even introduced, another important detail both mediums share.
    The final confrontation between Kurtz and Willard/Marlow is the ultimate depiction of Kurtz. In both mediums he is finally revealed at the very end, and in the limited “screen time” they both show their true colors. This is also where the delineation between both depictions begins to occur. Kurtz in the book is shown as a dark figure, with an all-consuming mouth and an air of command. But he also appears to be sicklier, and he directs all his orders from a stretcher. In the movie though, Kurtz doesn’t feel quite as dangerous. Rather, he is more of like a melancholic raconteur. He reveals his character through the anecdotes of the arm incident, and how this inadvertently led to his madness. Furthermore, his love for poetry and his depiction as a passive and artistic character is very different from his more cardboard portrayal in the book. Rather, Kurtz proves to be a dangerous character through his actions. Willard’s imprisonment, the decapitation of Chef and his satanic sanctuaries littered throughout the compound show that there is a much darker side to this seemingly passive character. This makes him feel more in depth and less archetypal. In the book, his final depiction, after leaving the unnamed ritual, is that of a shadow materializing from the ground. He appears to be a murky, muddy shadow, one with the draconian powers of the jungle and nature. He feels more like some demonic spirit and something born to be wild. In the movie this is very different. He doesn’t seem to be quite as evil as the book likes to portray him. Rather, he seems to be a victim of circumstantial temptation. He allows himself to be killed by Willard; he wants to be set free. His death feels far more honorific rather than a lethargic and forgettable death amidst disease in some forsaken boat.
    Kurtz, in the book, compared to in the movie, is a neither superior nor inferior portrayal, but there is definitely a clear delineation between the two that really changes ones view on both artworks. The movie focuses more on creating a character, one that can be related to and that feels like an actual recanting warrior. He feels less evil, but he seems to feel more believable. In terms of themes though, the book does a better job at exaggerating the Kurtz character, and showing him as the monster he is. The movie allows for empathy, while the book uses him more as a symbol than anything else. This is easily seen through the numerous encounters with him, but if anything, the two mediums do two things correctly. By showing Kurtz nearly at the end of their respective timelines, both create an air of suspense, mystery and awe around this complex character, immortalizing him in both works.

  2. Clara A says:

    One particular scene that stood out to me was the helmsman’s death in Heart of Darkness and the evident contrasts to its parallel scene in Apocalypse now. In both the novel and the film, the boat’s driver is killed. The death of this character has great impacts on the film as well as the novel by developing a major theme: the futility of death that is caused by imperialism and foreign intervention. In both cases, the character’s death is caused because he was sent to foreign land with the purpose of imperialising (in the case of Heart of Darkness) or intervening in foreign affairs (as is the case with Apocalypse Now). Both characters, before their deaths, question the senselessness of war and, specifically, their deaths.

    In Heart of Darkness, in spite that this scene is significant in terms of analysis, Conrad’s acknowledgement of the death is subtle and invites little reaction. In the novel, the helmsman is killed from a spear to the chest and dies a quick death. Right before he dies, “as though in response to some sign [Marlow and the others] could not see, to some whisper [they] could not hear, he frowned heavily, and that frown gave to his black death mask an inconceivably somber, brooding and menacing expression”. Undoubtedly, the helmsman, before dying, experiences a moment of edification and enlightenment, where he finally understands, as Kurtz does in his dying moments, the horror that lies within man. Furthermore, the helmsman understands that his death does not affect Marlow’s journey, he is merely a passing character in a far larger story. He truly understands the futility of his death and the evil behind imperialism, which is driven by man’s evil.

    In Apocalypse Now, Coppola, as a director, presents the themes in the scene in a far more obvious manner – with the purpose of transmitting the message in a more compelling way. Coppola utilizes the spear symbolically, not only as a mere prop, in the film’s scene. The spear represents the simple, detached and obsolete ways of living of the “savage” natives. This simple weapon contrasts with the heavy machinery and arms that the Americans have been using throughout the film. However, of all the weapons that could kill the Chief, a spear was the one to take his life. This irony is further emphasised when the Chief, instead of simply frowning to himself and allowing the viewer to interpret this moment as one of self-edification, adopts a less subtle approach than the huntsman in the novel and asks “A spear?,” almost bewildered by the odds of the cause of his death. This death, although not displayed as very important in the novel, is presented with additional significance as Coppola lowers the sound of the frantic shots and screaming to allow the audience to focus on the Chief’s death.

    The most noticeable change between Conrad’s scene and Coppola’s imitation is the exact manner in which the huntsman dies. In the novel, the huntsman simply bleeds to death from the wound inflicted by the spear. In the film, the Chief attempts to choke Willard. Willard, in response, chokes the Chief instead: it is Willard (the symbol for American imperialism and foreign intervention) that kills the Chief in the end, not the spear (which represents the savage ways of the natives). In the film, unlike in the novel, the huntsman’s reflection on the evil intentions behind imperialism and expansion, which are developed by men, is more clearly presented. In the novel, this theme is vaguely referenced to: perhaps a further, rather subtle, attempt to express the futility in the helmsman’s death.

  3. Notwithstanding the extensive discrepancies in both Cappola and Conrad’s use of medium, “Apocalypse Now” stunningly conveys many of the themes evoked during the novel it is loosely based off, “Heart of Darkness”. Perhaps one of the most stimulating themes developed during the novel is the dichotomy between the flabby, weak-eyed devil and the flagrant red-eyed one. Yet, whilst Kurtz does efficaciously embody the latter of the two in both the novel and the film, Cappola’s elucidation of the flabby devil in his theatrical masterpiece differs faintly from that of Conrad’s in the novel. In the novel, the flabby devil is most auspiciously manifested in the manager of the camp as well as the brick maker. Yet, the manager’s counterpart in the film, the cavalry commander, flounders to mimic the delusory nature of the flabby devil. Instead, he’s illustrated as a passionately deliberate character who neglects to display any affection to the Vietnamese he is botching. One of the film’s most entrancing scenes was that in which the cavalry commander, who was intending to gracefully share some water with the dying Vietnamese, throws the bottle away as he gets distracted by other occurrences. Although the scene itself occurs to provide comic relief, it also dispels any hint of pretense within the cavalry commander’s character who now vividly incarnates the red-eyed devil.

    Conversely, Cappola does not disregard the concept of the flabby devil in its entirety. As the film commences there is one particular scene which counterparts impressively that of Marlow and the brick maker. The scene itself is that in which Willard congregates with the generals, and Harrison Ford, to receive orders on the covert mission he is about to undertake. Yet, Cappola depicts the generals in a conspicuously similar manner to the brick maker in the novel. The generals themselves are recurrently panegyric towards Kurtz, much like the brick maker, all the while emphasizing the necessity to assassinate him. Cappola’s rendition of dichotomy between flabby and red-eyed devil in the film is masterfully developed. Whilst the generals of the US army are depicted as group of conspiring character, reminiscent of the flabby devil, the red-eyed devil himself is not only embodied in Kurtz but also in the much more deliberately calamitous cavalry commander.

  4. 16sergioe says:

    Apocalypse Now, loosely inspired by Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, is a movie that although contains a different setting, manages to parallel a lot of the book’s themes and characters. However there was one that struck me as odd. Through the descriptions in the book, my mind had created an image far from the one portrayed in the movie and to be one hundred percent honest, I was a little disappointed. In HoD Kurtz is a symbol of power to the natives, a moving force with an innate ability to inspire, almost a deity. His connotation is extremely positive, and even the man whose mission it is to kill him (Marlow) falls prey to his stories and beliefs. In the movie this was unapparent.

    Whether it be a result of Brando’s lack of physical appeal or simply the director’s script choice, the lighting in the movie portrayed Kurtz as a figure with negative aura. When I finished the book, I almost felt sorry for Kurtz. He was a man that strived for greatness and whose mind was sane, but his sole was evil. Unfortunately this got the better of him, and overtook him as a person. Though true that the natural inclination towards evil in mankind is a theme explored by both the movie and the book, I believed that the diction used by Conrad provided the reader with a positive image of Kurtz. In the movie I had a very negative connoted opinion of Kurtz from the beginning, despite the photographer’s great acting. I realize that the natives in the movie still worshiped Kurtz, but in my opinion it was solely based on fear (not the way I think he was worshipped in the book).

    Having said that though, I enjoyed both the book and the movie. In fact I inclined towards the Hollywood counterpart because of the lack of SAT vocabulary! The movie was entertaining throughout, had great music, and effective acting (despite the alcohol) while still maintaining those strong connections with the book, which were extremely apparent. If I had done the movie I would have changed a couple of things, and even though the character of Kurtz was disappointing, it didn’t prevent liking of the movie. (In fact it may have led to an increase of appreciation in the book!)

  5. 16camilab says:

    Coppola’s work on Apocalypse Now (AN) is a brilliant adaptation of Joseph’s Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (HD). Even though there are several differences between the film version and the book itself, Apocalypse Now is successful at depicting the same mysterious mood and several themes that Conrad illustrated on Heart of Darkness. One of the first aspects about HD that really capture my attention was the nature of femininity and the role women in the book. Throughout the book, Conrad displays many female characters that are portrayed in a very negative way mainly because they belonged to a completely different world than man did. After watching Apocalypse Now I notice that throughout the whole movie the only scene with women in it was in the Playboy scene. Considering Coppola’s attempts on recreating HD’s dark themes and violence, the playboy scene is somehow irrelevant to the overall plot of the film but it creates a significant impact on gender difference due to the representation of women’s role in society during the Vietnam War. Nonetheless, I do think is fascinating how Coppola decided to portrait women in his film the same way Conrad depicted women on HD.
    Both the film Apocalypse Now as well as Heart of Darkness targets women in a negative way but in different approaches. Set in the Vietnam War, the events on the film are not ancient at all and yet women are still mistreated or misused by man. While Coppola depicts women as a way of entertainment, Conrad captures them as naïve and ignorant creatures. In Heart of Darkness, there are several sections in which Conrad targets women’s naïve nature towards reality. One of the most symbolic ones is Kurt’s weird painting of a woman. The woman is illustrated blindfolded, holding a torch in complete darkness. Conrad uses this painting in order to criticise European ignorance in colonising Africa. Europe believes they are civilising Africa when in reality Africa is making Europeans behave uncivilised. Another idea that further supports this is the blindfold. The blindfold woman indicates the European’s ignorance to the fact that they are not able to bring civilisation in Africa. The fact that Kurtz chose a woman as the painting’s figure to represent Europe’s ignorance really enhances the naïve characteristics of women during 1899. The painting highlights women’s obscurity attitudes towards the real and dark world the man are involved.
    Despite the fact that the film and the book were developed in different time periods, both Coppola and Conrad view women as ignorant and irrelevant individuals. Both of them relate to the idea that women lived in an intact and isolated comfort zone because of all the negative forces they are surrounded by. Coppola was very successful at demonstrating the role of women during these days through the Playboy scene. The scene is set when the warriors are watching the performances of the playboy models exposing inappropriate and playful dance moves to the soldiers. The fact that Coppola only chose to portray the nature of femininity only in this event highlights women’s representation of a simple object of entertainment of man. At first, both the audience and the models are entertained and everything goes smoothly. However, towards the end everything falls apart. The soldiers became very violent and started crawling towards the stage to observe the Playboy models closely. As soon as this happens, the women’s reaction was very emotional and traumatic because the soldiers violated their delicate comfort zone.
    Overall, both the film AN by Coppola and HD by Conrad demonstrate the nature of femininity in different approaches. Despite the fact that both of the views are influenced by the time periods, still the depiction of women is very negative. Conrad developed the idea that women live in a very delicate world that impedes them to experience the darkness of the real world because of women’s naïve and ignorant attitudes.

  6. Lino Alejandro Romero says:

    The theme of inherent evil in humankind is, for me, one of the most interesting…uh…themes in Heart of Darkness. The vision of any human having a way of becoming evil and losing the basics of civilization, slowly becoming inhuman and demon-like is extremely important for the whole story. Seeing every character in the story have something wrong with them, something hidden from view in the European world that appears when in the wild jungles of the Kongo.
    Apocalypse Now brings this idea brilliantly, showing in most of its scenes the gradual de-humanization of men in a war-zone. The Vietnam War’s impact on American psyche was terrible, leaving men with mental and physical problems for the rest of their lives. The biggest example shown in the movie is the impact the sight of women makes on American soldiers. They swarm like zombies, charging and jumping, animal-like. The terror of these once-normal men becoming tied to the idea of pleasure to such an extent that they will become monsters conveys that any man is corruptible. I actually believe the movie conveys this better than the book, because of the greater amount of clearly insane characters. From their initial insertion into a Vietnamese battlefield through that badass helicopter scene to the tribal ceremony scene equating an animal’s butchering to Kurtz’s death, the evil that grows from men’s hearts is visible. Such death and destruction being unacceptable by a sane brain, the soldiers have become insane. Marlowe himself is shown to have snapped right from the beginning, needing to go back to his new place of comfort, the “real” world – Vietnam’s jungles. Another character whose insanity and evil is different is the Sergeant that leads the assault, forcing his men to go surfing during battle. He cares not for human life, not his own or anyone else’s, and so seems to be fearless in battle. The strongest character, that manages to stop his
    In the end, Coppola’s movie and Conrad’s book try to show the theme of this inherent insanity and evil in men. But Coppola’s usage of many more characters to show the strangeness and insanity that comes from the war-zone or heart of darkness, by showing the reactions of many different characters to this morphing.

  7. 16santushts says:

    Adapted from Joseph Conrad’s famous novel Heart of Darkness, Apocalypse Now strives to recreate the same somber mood and deliver a similar message about the roots and manifestations of evil in humans as its literary counterpart. While there are several superficial differences between the film and text, Coppola stays true in his homage to Conrad and forges several thematic and character ties to HoD. One such example is his portrayal of Willard’s ragtag escort, which closely resembles Marlow’s own gang of pilgrims in the novel.

    Throughout the course of their respective media, both fictional casts of characters display the same personality traits and contribute to the same overarching themes through their actions. In his novel, Conrad emphasizes the fact that Marlow’s fellow pilgrims are, for the most part, almost totally incompetent and terrified of the natives and their surroundings, adopting a veneer of artificial and forced bravado to sustain their spirits. Through this less than flattering description of the colonists, Conrad hopes to dispel any thoughts of heroism or bravery associated with the colonial movement and assert his own (cynical) and realistic view in the minds of the readers. Similarly, Coppola uses various scenes in the movie to illustrate the same point about the soldiers under the captain’s command. The chef’s culinary aspirations and pathetic encounter with the tiger paint a rather bleak portrait of young recruits in the American army, and his affinity for cursing and pitiful death (being unable to successfully request the airstrike) indicates the aforementioned recruits’ cowardice and incompetence.

    This point is further emphasized during the mockery of an inspection that the crew conducts in the defenseless Vietnamese barge, when, losing their sanity, the soldiers open fire on harmless natives. This particular scene also draws from another one of Heart of Darkness’ central themes, that of evil’s corrupting influence on sanity. Many of Conrad’s characters stationed in Africa often act irrationally and are prone to fits of cruelty, and their constant abuse of the natives serve as parallels to the actions of Willard’s crew. Where the manager enslaves and physically abuses an African, the American soldiers in Willard’s escort feel a similar need to assert their dominance over Vietnamese villagers. The last scene Coppola utilizes to reinforce the crew’s ineptitude and faintheartedness is their brief skirmish with camouflaged natives during their search for Kurtz. In a fit of fear and adrenaline similar to that of Conrad’s pilgrims during their conflict, the soldiers fire blindly into the trees in the hopes of dispatching their attackers. Their foolhardiness ultimately results in the death of the youngest crew-member (once again resembling the death of the helmsman in HoD). This scene makes the same point that Conrad does in his novel, that in spite of their superior technology, the aggressors are in the vastness of the jungle and ultimately driven insane by its ominous presence.

    Ultimately, both Conrad’s and Coppola’s respective escorts address the same issue and both the author and the director employ similar shock and awe tactics to convey their message. Conrad uses a plethora of imagery and his devil analogies to illustrate the colonists’ true nature, whereas Coppla employs the quintessential Hollywood combination of special effects and dialogue to portray his characters’ damaged psyches.

  8. Natasha Morales says:

    While Heart of Darkness manages to incorporate the different levels of the human psyche, the movie Apocalypse Now travels deep into the jungle during the Vietnam War with the philosophical purpose of developing or representing the theme of human versus savage. Although there are various differences between the movie and the book, apart from the time period, many techniques incorporated aided in replicating the mood Conrad exhibited throughout Heart of Darkness, which was an ominous and haunting one. The lighting technique, for example, was the one that had the most effect regarding adding mystery to the setting, specifically in regards to how Kurtz himself was portrayed. Overall, the most impacting symbol present in both the book and movie was the incorporation and depiction of Kurtz himself, both through the lighting and his death, and through him, the theme of human versus savages is further enhanced.
    Even though the lighting of Kurtz was truly based on the fact that Marlon Brando was overweight and didn’t fit the estimated weight of someone who spent years of their lives in the jungle, it served to give his character a mysterious and intriguing aura. When first introduced to Kurtz in the movie, he is shielded with shadows, yet as more of his personality and way of life comes to light, so does he (literally through lighting). This technique serves to emphasize the unknown aspects of his life that he chooses to remain hidden as well as serves to alienate him from ethical, moral men, since, in the movie, he truly resembles a dark force, one that has lost all ties to humanity and remains in the shell of a savage. The lighting in specific sections, such as the ceremony in Apocalypse Now, also gives Kurtz the impression of a God. In one particular scene, he stood by the doors of the temple, with a bright light behind him as he stared at the crowd, and this in particular radiated the notion that he was a powerful, almost unreachable deity.
    Kurtz characterization in relation to his psychological battle between human versus savages is further enhanced through the Kurtz’s death scene. The death in both the movie and the book resulted from different circumstances; in Heart of Darkness due to illness while in Apocalypse Now, it was due to Willard killing him, but regardless of these variations, the effect it provokes is still very powerful. However, the buildup before his death is very different. In the book, he is described as a manipulative man, one leading others to follow him through words, while in the movie there really isn’t much insight on his supposedly “manipulative” characteristic. He is actually portrayed as a man insane to the mind, one that resembles a savage, not a man, yet he still manages to earn the respect of those around him throughout the two versions of the story. When regarding his death, Heart of Darkness depicts his last moments as though he looked back upon his life and with his last ounce of humanity, realized all he did wrong, hence leading him to utter the phrase “the horror, the horror”. However, in Apocalypse Now, Willard kills Kurtz, and in his last dying moments, he utters the same phrase, yet one isn’t certain whether it is due to him remembering and regretting his actions or if he is referencing Willard and his choice to kill him. Either way, both serve as powerful endings, each portraying a different perspective on Kurtz himself and the distinction between human and savage that he underwent.

  9. Ahilya says:

    After watching the movie “Apocalypse Now” and reading the book that it was based on before hand, I feel that one character that was really altered in both works was the character of Kurtz. In the book, Kurtz is portrayed and conveyed as an individual that gave off an aura of authority and positive spirit. I imagined him being the one European person along the Congo that was, physically, most similar to the natives. What I mean by this is that his character, in my mind, was one that echoed the lifestyle of the natives on the island. Before watching the movie, I expected him to be talked of constantly and have many natives idolising him. One thing that really got me excited about Kurtz’ character was the way in which the photographer talked about him in the text. Though Conrad’s use of exaggeration was most prominent here, I truly believed that most of the things that the photographer shared about Kurtz and his personality would be echoed in the movie. I was truly disappointed from the way the director had portrayed Kurtz. Firstly, I believed that rather than being a deity-like figure for the natives, I thought he was rather scary and that he wanted everyone that came in his way to fear him. Furthermore, I believe that the concept of his thirst for ivory should have been addressed, as that was a prominent factor that led to his problems. Instead of this concept, the only thing that defined his personality and demeanor was his thirst for blood and killing. Although this is a movie that is loosely based on the book, I still believe that his character should have been executed in a more rounded manner and some aspects from Conrad’s work should have been kept.

    Despite this letdown, one character that the movie really gave justice to was the Photographer. I believe that the technique of exaggeration that Conrad used in his text parallels this character. For instance, while the photographer is describing Kurtz and how much he admires him, I imagined him to be an eccentric figure that was blown away by anyone and anything that was relatively smarter than he was. This was replicated very well visually as it met the expectations of the actual character from the book. The melodramatic hand gestures and the crazy look in his eyes was a great addition to the movie.

    While I was not greatly impressed by the content of the movie, as I don’t have an affinity for war-based films, the movie was very engaging visually. One scene that really stuck with me, in terms of aesthetic appeal and content, was the scene where all the soldiers had a concert with the dancers. I think the juxtaposition between the entertainment and the demons that they have to fight on a daily basis were very captivating. Overall, while the movie was alright as a whole, the content could have been a bit more true to the text.

    • Jess Barga says:

      Thanks, Ahilya—many of your classmates seem to agree about Kurtz; I wonder if I disagree largely because I’ve seen the uncut version with all the original Kurtz scenes? At any rate, he is intended to be seen as worshipped by the natives, but based largely on fear. This is the same as the book: the natives fear his “unsound methods,” and that makes them respect and worship him.

      (Note that in the book, the Russian trader figure is not a photographer! I’m sure you know that, but in your post you call him “the photographer” several times.)

  10. Ken says:

    In my opinion, Coppola’s Apocalypse Now adapts the themes of Heart of Darkness accurately and properly into the film. The similar theme that it conveys is that savagery is always present in human nature and that it is unleashed as soon as there is no civilization around to control it. In Heart of Darkness¸ this theme is conveyed by showing how a group of man become insane and end up like savages as they travel into the uncivilized Congo River. The same concept is done in Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, where it illustrates a group of soldiers that end up insane and savage like after spending time in Vietnam, outside of civilization. Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, like Heart of Darkness, conveys the theme that savagery is always present in human nature and that without civilization controlling it; it is unleashed. However, even though they both have a similar theme, the minimum plot twist done in the film is capable of changing the whole idea it is trying to convey to the audience. In Heart of Darkness, Marlow is sent to the Congo River with the objective of rescuing Kurtz, who has turned into a savage and has gone insane. On the other hand, Apocalypse Now portrays Marlow with the objective of killing Kurtz. This minimum plot twist manages to change the whole idea of civilization trying to prevent savagery, into civilization been savagery itself.

    In Heart of Darkness, the idea of having Marlow rescue Kurtz from the Congo River illustrates how Civilization is the one preventing savagery. It conveys how once someone leaves civilization, the individual will become a savage and the only way for that individual to come back is if civilization controls it again. On the other hand, in Apocalypse Now, Marlow is illustrated with the objective of killing Kurtz. This shows how civilization is savagery as well, because it is the one with the objective of killing, which is considered savagery. It is true that Kurtz has done many things that would be considered wrong from civilization’s point of view, but wouldn’t civilization be portrayed as savagery as well if they are the ones seeking to kill someone (something that is considered to be negative from civilization’s point of view)? The minimum change in the plot of the film was significant enough to change the idea it conveys, from the actual idea the novel conveys.

    Coppola’s Apocalypse Now may have a similar theme; however it fails to convey the idea of savagery and civilization due to a minimum twist in the plot. Nonetheless, even though it did fail to portray the same idea, I believe that the idea conveyed in the film is more accurate than the one in the novel. Civilization is something made by humanity, and with it, savagery that is part of human nature. Civilization may appear to be against things such as killing and savagery, but in reality it is just another way to cover the savagery that is in human nature.

    • Jess Barga says:

      Ken, HoD definitely implies that civilization is savagery, just like the film! Take a look at Marlow’s response to the frame narrator on the Nellie at the beginning of the book . . . this is one of the most successful points of adaptation, in my opinion. Note that Marlow was never supposed to rescue Kurtz—he was supposed to remove him from his position of power, just like Willard (though of course, in a much less violent way).

  11. Daniela Tabilo says:

    Coppola’s Apocalypse Now does a magnificent job in portraying Conrad’s original topic of the evil humanity is capable of. One scene that was particularly effective was when they encountered a Vietnamese boat on the river and stopped to check it. Even though this scene is created by Coppola and was not taken from the original Heart of Darkness, it fits the story perfectly. Before the arrival to Kurtz’s station, this is the scene where what power can to do a man is most explicitly shown. First of all, the boats were complete opposites of each other. The Vietnamese boat was simple, wimpy, and colorful. Overall, it portrayed much more innocence that the army boat which was large, metal, and of a single color. As one of the men from the army boat enters the Vietnamese boat and begins to search it, a fight erupts between him and the other men. As the Vietnamese remain silent out of fright, the soldiers continue to get more and more agitated until the youngest one starts shooting for no particular reason. All the people on the Vietnamese boat are killed, which leads the soldier on the boat to find the puppy the woman had been hiding. Though the puppy is only a part of the movie for a short time, it has great significance. It symbolizes vulnerability and innocence. The most important thing to the people on the boat was the puppy, or their innocence, which is why the woman was trying to protect it from the soldiers. But of course, the soldiers take it away from them.

    As mentioned before, this scene has no exact parallel in the novel. However, it still is extremely relevant to the plot of the original story. It shows how holding too much power can lead to terrible misunderstandings and horrible abuses. It also manages to do so in a very clear fashion. It does not take too much digging to find the meaning behind this scene. Since it was the young soldier who fired the gun, the meaning of it is intensified. Even though he was 16, he felt superior to the Vietnamese due to the power he felt he’d been given when he was allowed to use a gun. The role of his character in this scene truly pictures the sickness of the human mind that Conrad focused on in Heart of Darkness.

    As a whole, Coppola does a superb job at adapting Heart of Darkness into Apocalypse Now. Though there are many more scenes, characters, and themes that are parallels or related to the novel that the one mentioned above, its inclusion into the movie deepened its theme of absolute mental instability greatly.

  12. Lucas R. Llana says:

    Apocalypse Now is Francis Coppola adaptation of Conrad’s famous novel Heart of Darkness, takes place during the Vietnam Conflict in which a small group of soldiers is sent to kill the rogue Colonel Kurtz. While the main premise is different than in the book, most of the major symbols and themes are kept in this interpretation. However, there are some adapted items that feel rather lackluster when compared to the original source; one of these is the interpretation of Mr. Kurtz.

    Throughout the novel, Kurtz apparition has been pushed to the end, while at the same time he is described quite a lot before our main character meets him. In the novel, Kurtz is shown as an exceptional man, very intelligent and capable of manipulating people, who first started as a man with good intentions but slowly sank into the darkness of his heart. What is rather amusing is that the most important characterizations of him are not given when he is finally shown, but through other characters and their attitude towards Kurtz. Kurtz is shown as being manipulative, being able to captivate the minds of people by just talking. However it isn’t shown as him being a manipulative person, but as if he had a sort of aura and that more they interact with him, the more manipulated they are even if it seems that this isn’t his intention. Kurtz isn’t shown as actively manipulating people, but as if it were one of his characters traits that he couldn’t help about, just being near him is enough to change your previous opinion about him. Even Marlow is affected by this; he didn’t interact much with him, but gained a sense of respect towards him by the end of the novel. Kurtz fiancée seems to be the most affected by this, as she seems to be completely lost to how Kurtz really is. Being one of the people closets to Kurtz, she seems to be delirious and completely lost in Kurtz web of manipulation.

    Very little of this appears in the movie however. Most of what we are told of Kurtz is his accomplishments in the military, and how he suddenly went rogue. He is presented not as the manipulative man he is in the book, but as the well trained soldier he was in the past. There is little to none of Kurtz manipulating personality, even when the main character meets him. He is seen just as a man who has gone insane due to the constant war, insane in the mind and not in the souls as he is described in the book. The only character that seems to be affected by him is the photograph (who is supposed to be the Russian from the book) but when we get to hear Kurtz for the first time, his lines don’t come as high as the expectations were set. His aura is gone too, for we don’t see how Willard (who is supposed to be Marlow) slowly comes to respect Kurtz as he sees more of him. In general, Kurtz is only there to be the bad guy, unlike in the book who seems to challenge Marlow’s beliefs and ideals, and as a force capable of controlling people by just being close to them.

  13. lucagz says:

    While watching Francis Ford Coppola’s brilliant film adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” I made various thematic links to the novel. “Apocalypse Now” was able to successfully convey the insanity associated with Joseph Conrad’s psychologically alarming enigmatic novel. After attempting to look for a relevant connection between scenes in the movie and events in the novel I chose a specific scene which left me quite perplexed after watching it. When Willard arrives at the bridge which is being bombarded he gets off his boat with one of his crewmen who was definitely under the influence at the moment. After walking through damp trenches and telling his fellow soldier to get himself away from the explosions, which caught his drug induced eyes, they arrive at a sector were a group of African American soldiers are located. From this moment on, this scene made no sense which was what in my opinion made it flawless. The silence of the scene, the explosions drowned out by the suspense, no voices to be heard, just screams of pain in the background. The soldiers were so calm yet looked insane. The leader heard screams in the distance, took his time to grab his grenade launcher. Loaded it patiently. Aimed and fired. The screams ceased. He quietly retreated. It was a routine event for him. Killing had become part of him. Ironically his frigid, unshakeable attitude indicated his mental instability same as for the other soldiers with him.

    This scene may not have appeared in the novel, but it works perfectly well showing the viewer how the darkness infiltrated their hearts and became part of these men. Coppola not only uses American soldiers to show how the colonists in Joseph Conrad’s Congo became mad, but he used African American soldiers. The fact that he merges foreign invaders with the same race used in “Heart of Darkness” intricately links this strange scene with the novel. Both the themes of race and colonization can be seen in this scene. What impressed me the most about this encounter Willard had with these soldiers was that these soldiers seem to have accommodated themselves in this hostile war environment. Their minds were distorted and their mental health affected by being in Vietnam, yet they seemed as if they were at home. Their tranquil attitude toward the atrocities of war happening a few feet away from them was utterly disturbing which is what I believe Coppola was aiming for. The paradoxical relationship that these soldiers had between serenity and violence was what this scene was trying to convey.

  14. Yan says:

    Coppola’s portrayal of an “equivalent” to Heart of Darkness (HoD) is rather successful, but there are many scenes in Apocalypse Now, which are crucial to the storyline in HoD, that are disparate. One of the many scenes that were altered is the ending, when Marlow (or Willard) finally leaves the heart of Darkness. Before anything, in Heart of Darkness we see the Africans admire Mr. Kurtz as a god, and rather furious when they notice that he is going to be taken away. That being said, when Marlow escorts Mr. Kurtz to the boat, the Africans react respectively and try to prevent them from taking him. On the other hand, Apocalypse Now shows the opposite reaction on the indigenous natives from Vietnam. Instead of loving Captain Kurtz, they want him off the island. This is demonstrated in the end of the movie after Willard murders Captain Kurtz while the natives are doing a ritual. Instead of showing hatred and anger towards Captain Kurtz death, they kneel down towards Willard as he rises above them on the temple. More so, they praise Willard for getting rid of Captain Kurtz rather than praising Captain Kurtz. This is a noticeable difference between HoD and Apocalypse Now, in HoD they believe Mr. Kurtz is a god-like figure; whereas, in Apocalypse Now, they see him as a savage.

    Another example that supports this contrast between HoD and Apocalypse Now is when Marlow/Willard and his crew are approximating to their locations. This is when they are rained down by arrows, and when one of the crew members is pierced by a spear from a native. However, both of them have different meanings. After realizing that the indigenous tribe in Vietnam reacts different towards Kurtz than the native tribe in Africa, the reasoning behind the rain of arrows is altered. For instance, the reason why in HoD the natives are shooting the boat with arrows is because they don’t want Mr. Kurtz to leave because, as mentioned extensively earlier, they look up to him as a model/god. On the other hand though, in Apocalypse Now they are either commanded by Captain Kurtz to prevent the boat from reaching their destination, as he is aware of their mission, or they are doing it for self-defense. If neither of those are the reasons, then it wouldn’t make sense why the movie ended in the natives kneeling down. Perhaps, they did so because they respect Willard as a stronger leader after killing Captain Kurtz; however, if they really see Captain Kurtz as a godly figure, then shouldn’t they be furious towards the killer rather than praising him? Either way, it still fits in the story nicely and both works give the same impact of a person entering the depths of unknown land, the “heart of darkness”.

    • Jess Barga says:

      Yan, this is a really interesting point you bring up, and one that I think is rendered more ambiguous in the film by the number of scenes they deleted to keep the movie at a reasonable length.

      The natives at Kurtz’s camp are actually supposed to be viewed as adoring him, just like the natives in Heart of Darkness. I think this becomes clearer after multiple viewings or once one has seen the full footage from the time Willard spends at the camp. However, the natives revere Willard after he kills Kurtz because he has killed something they viewed as all-powerful. In effect, then, he becomes all-powerful himself, especially due to the violent and ritualistic manner of Kurtz’s demise. I think the full-length film also intimates that Kurtz made it known among his people that he would be passing onto the next realm, and they knew that he was very ill.

      Obviously, these are nuances that the book does not concern itself with, because Marlow does not kill Kurtz. I do think that last scene is gripping and merits some discussion. I’m glad you chose this one for your comparison.

  15. Sebastian says:

    The aspect of Apocalypse Now and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness that I want to compare is the use of darkness as a motif. Quite evidently, darkness is not made such a prominent facet of the film, which I think is one of the biggest distinctions it holds with the source material. However, I find that the themes that Conrad originally portrays are depicted just as effectively. Darkness itself symbolizes nothing individually. Sometimes it demonstrates the purposefully deceitful or ambiguous nature of men, which Marlow detests; sometimes it is used as a metaphor for the dark skinned natives, who also demonstrate a visceral stage of man, untethered by civilization’s norms, and whom Marlow fears becoming. There are a number of other uses of darkness, but Conrad used it more as a catalyst to get a number of messages across and it is actually not that relevant to the themes themselves. Thus, the film opted to present the different themes in its own manner. This effectively sets it apart. Whereas the text often resorts to including darkness in Marlow’s almost poetic prose to outline what is wrong with humanity, the film utilizes potent images that leave the viewer aghast, simply leaving humanity’s intrinsic sordidness for display. Even the least gruesome scene of Apocalypse Now is far more emotionally impacting than the worst controversy Heart of Darkness has to offer. A direct example of how a theme that was directly tied to darkness was adapted for the film is the natives themselves. Darkness as a motif cannot be applied to the skin color of the civilians in Vietnam, although they are technically not considered white, but the theme of race remains. The Vietnamese are seen to be slaughtered, mistreated, and at one point referred to as ‘savages’. Towards the end they also show another theme related to darkness using the tribe that venerated Kurtz: the innate savagery humans could regress to. One of the soldiers in Willard’s group literally joined them, and the actions that the Captain himself took to accomplish his mission were notoriously brutal, in addition to decidedly unnecessary.

    However, there is specifically one character in the film to whom darkness is directly tied to: Coronel Kurtz. Granted, the use of darkness does not encompass everything in did in the book, so this is slightly more a reference to the most prevalent theme of the source material, but it does greatly enhance the character. In addition to hiding the large physique of the actor, which was unfaithful to Kurtz’ true figure, it characterizes him as he was in the book. Kurtz is surrounded by an enigmatic air that most interpret for mysticism. It is through his voice, and very seldom through action or physical prowess that he manages to sway others to his cause. The darkness here additionally detaches his voice from his physical shape. In fact, his physical shape could be considered irrelevant altogether since all his power is drawn from his eloquent speech, and this exemplified in the monologue on horror. In the end, I think that this was a greatly successful way in which the themes pertaining to darkness in the book were adapted for the film.

  16. Alex Trivella says:

    The amount of themes and ideas of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness that are successfully portrayed in Apocalypse Now by Coppola is astounding. However there is one character from the movie in particular that I believe most accurately represents the “flabby, pretending, weak-eyed devil of a rapacious and pitiless folly” that Marlow informs us about in the book: Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore. Although an explicit reference to the weak-eyed devil is never talked about it I believe Coppola manages to manifest this evil in the film as Colonel Kilgore. Kilgore’s general disregard and indifference towards the suffering of the native Vietnamese during his attacks is the closest parallel to the weak-eyed devil. The most compelling scene was the air strike on the defenceless Vietnamese village as the children were coming out of school, displaying to us the technological superiority of the Americans and invoking empathy from the audience during the destruction of the town. However, what is clear suffering to us is commonplace to the Lieutenant, making one realize that one of the worst kinds of inhumanity is ignorance towards committing immoral acts.

    Additionally, as Kilgore attempts to aid the wounded Vietnamese man who was asking for water he gets distracted, leaving the man to die thirsty; his conspicuous interest for surfing and lines such as “I love the smell of napalm in the morning “are clear indicators of his “weak-eyed evil” that covets adrenaline, analogous to the greedy colonists in search of gold that are described in the book. The most similar situation in the book that zeroes in on the “weak-eyed devil” is the scene where Marlow finds the famished African with the white string tied around his neck. Kilgore, as well as the colonists in Heart of Darkness, share a disgusting dismissal of native suffering that is perplexing to the audience/reader. Just as the colonists, the lieutenant claims he is helping the natives; however, it is clear that the man couldn’t care less about them. Therefore, the characterization of such evil into Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore Coppola introduces us to the “weak-eyed devil” through a different medium than the narrations of Marlow in Heart of Darkness.

  17. Emanuel Marcano says:

    Apocalypse Now, one of Francis Coppola’s masterpieces, narrates the journey of an army captain who is sent to kill a special forces colonel gone rogue. Francis Coppola’s inspiration for the movie came from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The most essential element of Coppola’s adaptation is the journey up the river. There are two keystones to Marlow’s journey up the Congo River in Heart of Darkness: the stops and his narration.

    Marlow’s stops along his journey provide the readers with insights into the the darkness that the Europeans have created in Africa and into the lives of those Europeans themselves. Similarly, Willard continues to learn more about the Americans in Vietnam as he travels up the river. In his stop at the central station, Marlow learns that the general manager has attained his position due to his strength. He also learns that the general manager is a ruthless character with no regard for the natives, which mirrors the attitudes and personalities of most of the Europeans that were colonizing Africa. This stop is resembled in Apocalypse Now with the helicopter raid, and the manager is resembled by the cavalry commander. This individual was brilliantly interpreted by Coppola, and his inhumanity and disregard when it came to the natives was well adapted. In both instances, the characterizations of Europeans/Americans as pragmatic individuals with little to no humanity when it came to the natives is delivered by this stop along the journey up the river. Another great example of an essential stop that is replicated is when they come up to an empty camp. This empty camp is an indispensable symbol of the emptiness of the European and American missions respectively. Other instances, like the scene with the Playboy girls, might not be direct parallels from the book, but are still representative of the idea that, as the journey up the river continues, the audience gains more knowledge about the nature and character of the Americans or Europeans.

    Parallel to learning more about the Europeans/Americans as the journey up the river progresses, the audience also acquires amazing insight into Marlow and Willard through their narration. In the novel, it is through this narration that Marlow expresses his opinion about the whole situation in Congo. It is also the tone of Marlow’s narration that truly sets the tone for the whole book. The convoluted sentences set the ambiance for the whole book and truly develop the whole idea of Marlow’s confusion about the events occurring around him. This beautifully crafted narration is what makes Heart of Darkness so meaningful and artistic. Coppola recognized this and adapted it to his screenplay. The movie is reliant on Willard’s narration, and that is the most important parallel to the novel. It is hard to adapt narration so thoroughly to a film, and, even though at times I had trouble following it, it distinguished Coppola as a director for me. As the journey up the river progresses, so does the protagonist’s narration through which the audience can explore the minds of Marlow and Willard respectively.

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