In the opening scenes of the documentary film "Hearts of Darkness-A Filmmaker's Apocalypse," Eleanor Coppola describes her husband Francis's film, "Apocalypse Now," as being "loosely based" on Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Indeed, "loosely" is the word; the period, setting, and circumstances of the film are totally different from those of the novella. Yet, a close analysis of character, plot, and theme in each respective work reveals that Conrad's classic story of savagery and madness is present in its cinematic reworking.
The story of Heart of Darkness is narrated by its central character, the seasoned mariner Marlowe, a recurring figure in Conrad's work. "Apocalypse Now" features a corollary to Marlowe in Captain Willard, a U.S. Army special forces operative assigned to go up the Nung river from Viet Nam into Cambodia in order to "terminate the command" of one Colonel Walter Kurtz whom, he is told, has gone totally insane. It is fitting that Marlowe's character should be renamed, as Willard differs from Marlowe in several significant ways: 1) He is not the captain of the boat which takes him and a party of others up the river; 2) He does not reflect the deep psychological and philosophical insights that are a signal feature in Marlowe's character, and 3) He is sent on his mission specifically to kill Kurtz, unlike Marlowe who is simply piloting others in the capacity of captain of a steamboat. However, Willard does communicate Marlowe's fascination (growing, in fact, into an obsession) with Kurtz. Also significant is the fact that he holds the rank of captain, tying in with Marlowe's occupation.
As to the character of Kurtz, it is worth noting that while signi...
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...it, and Kurtz, whose soul went mad, all remain relatively in tact. One can still feel "The horror, the horror,"
Works Cited and Consulted
Brooke, Riley. "’Heart’ Transplant." Film Comment Sept.-Oct 1979: 26-27.
Browne, Ray B, ed. Rituals and Ceremonies in Popular Culture. Bowling Green: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1980.
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness and The Secret Sharer (New York: Doubleday & Co., 1978)
Coppolla, Francis Ford, dir. Apocalypse Now. Perf. Marlon Brando, Martin Sheen. 1981.
Dittmar, Linda and Michaud, Gene, ed. From Hanoi to Hollywood: The Vietnam War in American Film. USA: Rutgers University Press, 1990.
Hellman, John. American Myth and the Legacy of Vietnam. New York: Columbia University Press, 1977.
Philips, Gene D. Conrad and Cinema: The Art of Adaptation. Dallas: Peter Lang, 1995.
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