Francis Coppola's Apocalypse Now dramatically displays a variety of the shocking, devastating, and bizarre emotions experienced by victims of the Vietnam War. Viewers are able to feel the horror and madness of the war as eccentric images of Hell repeat themselves upon Captain Willard's arrival to Kurtz's station. As Willard reaches his destination, the evidence of insanity grows as the presence of Natives present themselves awkward to the audience and to the actors. In connection to the novel Heart of Darkness, this Hollywood production revives the enigma of Willard's mission using effective sound effects, images and props. Apocalypse Now adequately recaptures the horror, madness, sensuousness and the moral dilemmas displayed in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness in a visually appeasing way.
Images of horror and madness greet Captain Willard as he approaches Kurtz's station. The eerie tribal dance performed by one of the soldiers on board the boat foreshadows the madness and horror of what is to come. The half-naked natives seen standing in war canoes are as silent as the jungle. It is the type of silence that could make one go insane.
Madness is everywhere. The natives run at the sound of the siren which, like the native's cry, arose with terrifying shrillness that pierced the still air like a sharp arrow flying straight to the very heart of the land (Conrad, 100). As the natives ran, the bushes shook, the grass swayed for a time, and then everything stood still in attentive immobility. (Conrad, 100). Again, a sense of madness is displayed as the actors and audiences question the purpose of the natives silent stare. For the same purpose, Francis Coppola has them silently come up from the ground (Conrad, 100) to take Willard hostage.
It is as if the natives are dead souls reaching out to drag Willard into their circle of death. The horrid images of dead bodies hanging naked from trees parallel to th symbolic (Conrad, 97) heads that Marlow sees at the station. They add to the feel of death, horror and Hell as the place was full of bodies (Willard). Kurtz's madness is everywhere: he threatens to kill the fools (Journalist / Russian) over a minor issue. To further illustrate this, the Journalist says: Sometimes if you say hello to him (Kurtz), he ll walk right by ya. He won t even notice you and suddenly he ll grab you and throw you in a corner and say, Did you know that if is the middle word in life...
(Journalist). Captain Willard's arrival to Kurtz's station contains a variety of grotesque images that illustrates the horror and madness evident in Heart of Darkness. In addition to these images, special effects also add to the feel of insanity. Filmmakers use a variety of special effects such as music and props to stimulate the senses of his or her audience.
The overwhelming silence that engulfs the station is disturbing. The natives are silent in the canoes and in the jungle; as they watch Willard and his crew wait for Kurtz's return, and as they follow Willard around. The only sound to be heard for is the steady beat of native drums that Marlow mistakes for the beating of (his) heart (Conrad, 110). It is accompanied by soft, hypnotic music to make the audience feel the madness of the heart.
Similarly, the prolonged stillness is enough to make the audience feel slightly insane. The thick fog (Conrad, 71) that Marlow encounters are seen as yellow and red in the film colors of fire and Hell. The trees and bushes are dark under the shadows, illustrating the dark-faced and pensive forest (Conrad, 100). The station is a somber place: a dead man is cut from a tree and falls into the river; fog and rain invades the jungle and tall trees hovers over the land like kings (Conrad, 55). Senselessness is felt as a soldier is seen wearing a leaf on his head and as the journalist is seen carrying a ridiculous amount of bags and cameras. The incongruity of the journalist, like the Russian, adds to the absurdity of the heart however, they provide the audience with a comic relief.
The dress of the characters, use of special effects and the making of the settings all contribute in initiating bizarre emotions from the viewer, helping them better understand Conrad's view on the darkness of the human heart. Through this rendition, the weakness of the human condition emerges. It is often said that men do not return from war as the same person because they are no longer virgins to human evil. Hence, it is easy to confuse right from wrong and as a result, moral dilemmas become an issue. Willard detests the Americans as much as Marlow hates the pilgrims. They are faced with the option of siding with Kurtz and following their instinct or to act under moral beliefs about work ethic and to kill the respected Kurtz.
Kurtz is a man of moral dilemmas; he threatens to kill the journalist and the Russian. Also, he uses the natives to act against his (Kurtz s) people (Americans / white men). He wants to be with his people because he forgets himself with his people (Journalist) however, he wants to get away from it all in the novel but somehow he couldn t get away (Conrad, 95). This shows Kurtz's confusion over what he thinks the right thing to do is. For many, it is difficult to differentiate right from wrong because of influential factors such as dominating moral beliefs and the moral condition of society.
Although Apocalypse Now features the Vietnam War, its focus is not of the war but, like Heart of Darkness, the elements of horror, madness and confusion that emerge from the darkness of the human heart. Images of death, stories of Kurtz's bizarre behaviors and the presence of the questionable natives at the station illustrate the absurdity of madness and horror. In addition to horror and madness, the silence of nature and of the natives; the use of special effects and props, and the effective design of the Hell-like jungle contributes to the feel of mystification and bewilderment feelings that can be dangerous if not properly controlled, as did Marlow. The film-version of Heart of Darkness is a powerful means of expressing the horror and madness of the human heart in a sensuous and dramatically fascinating way.