Heart of Darkness – Apocalypse Now Trying to carry on in an unfamiliar society for a long duration of time can lead to madness and chaos. Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness and Francis Ford Coppola’s film Apocalypse Now share many parallels and similar ideas to demonstrate that humans can become monstrous beings upon entering an environment that is alien to them. While the stories are not symmetrical, both highlight the importance of setting, focus on character development, and contrast lightness and darkness to illustrate symbolism.
In both tales, the invading forces are placed into an environment that is unlike anything they have experienced before in their lives. It is thick and dense, and it creates a psychological parameter that changes these men into monsters. In Heart of Darkness, the Congo provides very little space for the men to live in, which constricts their thinking and limits their ability to act rationally. As the men make their way up the Congo River and delve deeper into this mysterious land, the river begins to symbolize the connection between, what we elieve to be, good and evil.
Marlow refers to the river as a snake at one point, which could signify that the river represents a horrifying evil. The farther the squad goes up the river, it feels like they become more heavy – more bogged down with the weight of this evil on their backs. Apocalypse Now uses the setting uses the same dynamics of Heart of Darkness’s dense Congo setting, but converts it into a Vietnam War setting. It uses the same heavy feelings of constriction, tightness, and uncomfortable limitation to create a similar result.
The director uses tight camera angles and dense Jungle footage to create a claustrophobic effect that disrupts the characters’ psychological normality and warps their basic human morals. The director is making a point that this was not the right place for young American men to be wielding guns. This is evident in a scene where the soldiers, disrupted and confused by their environment, massacre a boat full of innocent Vietnamese people. Both stories make it apparent that these foreign forces were in places they shouldn’t have been.
Heart of Darkness’s Marlow and Apocalypse NoWs Willard both go through tremendous experiences that change who they are. While Marlow travels up the Congo and witnesses immeasurable terrors that affect him, Willard actually engages in these horrible acts of savagery. When we meet Willard, he already seems displaced from the world he comes from, absorbed in the chaos of war and his surroundings. His disconnect from the world continues to grow, and his obsession with Kurtz metastasizes.
As the film progresses and the search for Kurtz grows onger, Kurtz’s insanity becomes intertwined with Willard’s. He loses sight of the morals the once had and becomes a savage himself, which makes an interesting allusion to Heart of Darkness. In Conrad’s book, the Europeans believe that the real savages are deep within the Congo, the heart of darkness. But Apocalypse Now makes it apparent that the real savages were the western invaders, a point Heart of Darkness makes more subtly. Unlike Willard, Marlow maintains a reasonably rational sight as he travels up the Congo.
Though he begins his Journey with an air of European elitism, he begins to understand that the Congo natives are not as savage finding Kurtz, his insanity settles down and he is able to maintain his quality of character. He learns that savagery is simply a part of human nature, and it is a normal part of the evolution of a civilization. Conrad and Coppola both make use of lightness and darkness to demonstrate the differences between what is good and evil, and what is civil and savage. Initially, Marlow associates light with knowledge and what he knows to be true.
He speaks of bringing lightness to the African world that is shrouded in darkness, or uncivil, primitive behavior. Marlow views himself as a sort of savior of this unholy, dark, barbaric place littered with uneducated, lesser people. In Heart of Darkness, there is a dark side to everything, even the light. Marlow learns that nothing is truly light, and the darkness resides inside of everything – even himself and his crew. In Apocalypse Now, Coppola creates many scenes in the film that are intentionally dark in order to show a lack of civility, even among the
Americans. The river evolves from a shiny, glistening body to a shadowed tangle of dark branches and plants. When we finally meet Kurtz, he is mostly filmed in darkness to show that he has gone far off the deep end. After Willard slays him, there is a glance of glimpse of light to symbolize a way out of this mess in Vietnam. These stories illustrate the wickedness that lives inside of human beings, no matter their background or level of refinement. Darkness exists within us all. The loss of morality mixed with greed can be a dangerous combination.