Revealing the Heart of Darkness in Apocalypse Now

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Revealing the Heart of Darkness in Apocalypse Now

Often a novel filmed as a movie departs from the original story, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. However, many great works of literature have inspired movies, and served as the basis for a great film, even though the film may approach the literature in a different way. Such is the case with Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now, which was inspired by Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.

Coppola and the screenwriter, John Mileus, took a story written nearly eighty years earlier and used its basic theme of the inner darkness of man and the idea of the journey up a river into the unknown to tell a story about one of the darkest, most confusing chapters of American history: the Vietnam War. Coppola's alterations to Heart of Darkness serve to exemplify his overall point, namely, that the United States' involvement in Vietnam was itself a descent into the "heart of darkness". Coppola was able to make a movie with such a theme for an American audience that was still dealing with Vietnam. The movie came out five years after the last troops finally left Vietnam, and the American public was still asking itself what had been accomplished and why we had been involved, while the troops who had served there were haunted by memories of the horrors they had seen, and were left wondering what it had all been worth as well. Coppola found a story in Heart of Darkness that dealt with the same issues of darkness and confusion, and he applied them to Vietnam to accomplish the task of demonstrating the darkness that was the Vietnam War. Coppola uses the basic plot structure and theme of Heart of Darkness to convey a message that America was wrong in the Vietnam War, and he comes...

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... saw the darkness of a bloody, confusing war that surely parallel Conrad's colonialism, but that also showed that the inner darkness of all man was still at work in the world. He shows that war is at its heart only a manifestation of that darkness. As Mike Wilmington puts it in his article "Worth the Wait: Apocalypse Now," "It's a search . . . toward death and dissolution. Probably Coppola . . . could not explain what that search was meant to find" (288). With Apocalypse Now, Coppola has looked down a crooked unclear path into the heart of darkness.

Works Cited

Chatman, Seymour. "Two and a Half Versions of Heart of Darkness." Conrad on Film. Ed. Gene M. Moore. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Wilmington, Mike. "Worth the Wait: Apocalypse Now." Heart of Darkness, Norton Critical Edition. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1988.
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