Various parallels can be drawn when comparing and contrasting Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Frank Coppola's 'Apocalypse Now', while taking into consideration Heart of Darkness is a novella and 'Apocalypse Now' is a film. These differences and similarities can be seen in themes, characters, events and other small snippets of information including anything from quoted lines to strange actions of the main characters. Both pieces follow the same story line but they are presented in different contexts, allowing for many differences as well as the ability to see how Conrad is able to write a piece of literature that can be transposed to many different settings regardless the time period and still convey the same message of colonialism. The most obvious and apparent parallel between 'Apocalypse Now' and Heart of Darkness is the differences in the venues in which the stories take place as well as the era in which each piece are set. 'Apocalypse Now' is set during the Vietnam War with the protagonist being Captain Willard, who is sent on a mission to kill one of his own. While in Heart of Darkness, the protagonist is Marlow, a Belgian who heads into the Congo to find one of his company's workers, respectively.
Marlow and Willard both learn about the battle between good and evil, and the evil that the jungle can bring out in anyone. One great similarity is Marlow and Willard's ability to hold back from succumbing to the 'darkness' of the jungle by keeping their integrity and sticking to their goals. Consequently, Marlow and Willard are essentially the same character, however they have slight variations. Willard does not have the philosophical insight that Marlow has and is not always able to comprehend like him. One large difference that I was able to find between Heart of Darkness and 'Apocalypse Now' is the dependence and want of a substance. In Heart of Darkness, the great majority for the premise of Marlow's journey was built off of ivory expeditions and that is what Kurtz is all about.
'Apocalypse Now' has no comparable ideal. The character of Kurtz is constant in both Heart of Darkness and 'Apocalypse Now. ' In each piece Kurtz is a man with good intentions that turns evil from greed and what he finds in the jungle, whether it is an object or power. Kurtz sees himself in Marlow or Willard; because that is the type of person he was before entering the jungle. Even Marlow begins to feel that he is becoming like Kurtz when he says, 'I was getting savage. ' Both Marlow and Willard are able to find their true selves in the jungle and through contact.
In Apocalypse Now, Captain Willard utters the line 'cut 'em in half with a machine gun and give 'em a Band-Aid. It was a lie. And the more I saw them, the more I hated lies. ' The central theme in this line can be seen in both 'Apocalypse Now' and Heart of Darkness.
Essentially, this line depicts the truth of colonialism and imperialism, stating that we have the 'best' intentions and are going to civilize savages, even if we have to kill them, just to gain a sense of control and power. Unlike Heart of Darkness, 'Apocalypse Now's hows the American's viewpoint on communism, do to the setting and time period and pulls in some political viewpoints based on the era. The United States, is horrified at the socialist idea that power at the top falls, and one reformed class is created. The United States is afraid that since Vietnam was a communist country that they might have influence on other countries, thus creating a sense of inferiority. Yet another parallel can be drawn between the actions of the characters and elements of the setting. Though it is in slightly different contexts, there are similarities between the French ships shelling into the jungle and Willard's crew aimlessly shooting in the jungle.
In Heart of Darkness Marlow's steamboat passes a French steamer that seems to be aimlessly firing into the jungle, with no visible attacker, this is very similar to how when Willard and Chef are in the jungle and the tiger leaps and makes a load growl. With that the men on the boat, shoot frantically into the woods, with no target. It is similar, for the exception that in one they are on the ship in which the shelling occurs, versus simply being a bystander. It shows how 'fire happy' these men were ready to fight and kill without a motive.
Heart of Darkness and 'Apocalypse Now' both embody the theme of madness and insanity. In Heart of Darkness madness and insanity come as a result of imperialism, Africa is responsible for mental disintegration as well as for physical illness. Madness, in Heart of Darkness, is the result of being removed from ones normal environment and how each person adapts and then re-adapts to society. The same theme of madness and insanity can be seen in Coppola's 'Apocalypse Now. ' Many of the soldier's are just kids, barely 18 or 19, and have little mental stability, since being thrown into a context that is so foreign to them, where their life is on the line every minute.
Men like Chef and Lance are ready to snap at any moment because of the shock and realization of where they are, what they are doing, and the fear of not knowing where they are headed. Coppola confronts the insanity of war through Kurtz and the other young men, he is able to depict what it was like for these men, and why so many men after serving in Vietnam suffered Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. One interesting event that is different is the endings of Heart of Darkness and 'Apocalypse Now. ' In Heart of Darkness, Kurtz is dying of a slow death and indeed he dies from Malaria, uttering the famous words 'The horror!
The horror! ' 'Apocalypse Now' ends in a slightly different fashion. Capt. Willard decides to finally carry out his order's and assassinate Kurtz. Willard prepares his machete and with several hacking blows, he kills Kurtz, and yet again, he utters the same words, 'The horror! The horror! ' The most apparent difference is the way in which Kurtz dies, in Heart of Darkness; Kurtz dies of malaria, naturally, while in 'Apocalypse Now', Kurtz is assassinated by Willard as planned.
Aside from the differences in the ending scene, there are also various symbolic differences between the two pieces. When Captain Willard carries out his orders and hacks Kurtz to pieces with the machete, the scene begins to quickly flip flop between Kurtz's death and the slaughtering of cattle as a sacrifice by the native people. The symbolic meaning behind this scene shows that there is more than one level to Kurtz's death as well as meaning Kurtz that was a sacrifice to society and his death was to show the horrors of greed and the power and darkness of the jungle. When comparing 'Apocalypse Now' and Heart of Darkness many small parallels and strange symbolic actions that occur are encountered.
In 'Apocalypse Now' Willard dislikes Kurtz in the beginning, and as the story progresses, he begins to like and envy him. On the contrary, in Heart of Darkness Marlow likes Kurtz in the beginning, based on the stories and the information given about him, and as the novella develops, Marlow begins to hate him. Symbolic meanings can be derived from 'Apocalypse Now' in the opening and final scenes. When 'Apocalypse Now' opens, the viewer encounters Willard's opening monologue in which the focus of the camera angle is his eyes.
Similarly in the ending scene Willard closes the film with a monologue and yet another piercing shot of his eyes. The use of the eyes is a very predominant theme in 'Apocalypse Now' and can also be seen in T.S. Eliot's 'The Hollow Man', which in fact is the poem that Kurtz recites in the film. Consequently, T.S. Eliot's poem, 'The Hollow Man' can be related to both Heart of Darkness and 'Apocalypse Now. ' In 'The Hollow Man' Eliot referrers to the 'stuffed man', in his poem, symbolizing that these men are 'stuffed' with lies. Yet another symbolic reference can be made to Kurtz, he is not just representative just to the United States in 'Apocalypse Now' and Europe in Heart of Darkness.
Instead, Kurtz represents the entire world, particularly the United States, in showing that the true evil does not just branch from one single place. Along the same lines cognitive dissonance is used in 'Apocalypse Now. ' Coppola challenges the viewer with what they see versus what they know. Racism is also a common theme that is apparent in both 'Apocalypse Now' and Heart of Darkness.
In Heart of Darkness, racism can be seen generally only from one angle, that being the African's in the Congo, while in 'Apocalypse Now', those being persecuted are not only the Vietnamese 'savages', but also the African American soldiers that are part of Willard's expedition, because of the message that Coppola conveys through the film. The evidence of racism in Heart of Darkness is very evident; the Africans are constantly persecuted, killed, enslaved, and called savages. A similar parallel can be drawn between the Vietnamese in 'Apocalypse Now', though they are not enslaved like the Africans; they are called 'gukes' and 'savages', brutally murdered for no reason or to go surfing. A strange idea that can be drawn is the image of the African Americans in Willard's crew. If the viewer watches carefully and thinks about the scenes in the film, they will realize that the first two men to die from the crew are the African American crew members. Whether or not this was an intentional ploy by Coppola, it still shows how the African American's were treated, in a time of war, often less respected than the white man.
One similarity between Heart of Darkness and 'Apocalypse Now' is the use Kurtz's final words 'The horror! The horror. ' In Heart of Darkness there is a variety of meanings from the horror that his work is not complete or his final realization of the horrors of the jungle. The same thing is apparent in 'Apocalypse Now', 'The horror!
The horror!', has the same effect and a variety of meaning, including Kurtz's realization and 'the horror' that Kurtz's presence will always be with Willard or Marlow. In conclusion, a great number of parallels can be drawn when comparing and contrasting Frank Coppola's film, 'Apocalypse Now' and Joseph Conrad's novella, Heart of Darkness. Many of the differences and similarities pertain to the setting, racist tones, themes, and the characters themselves. Though in different contexts, one being a book, and the other a film, both prove to be effective in showing the horrors of colonialism as well as the power and the great that anyone can produce. 'Apocalypse Now' is the perfect example of showing the universality of Conrad's novella, and how it able to be translated in many different ways and manipulated effectively to interest people of all walks of life.