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“Heart of Darkness” and “Apocalypse Now”

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    Francis Ford Coppola has crafted his film Apocalypse Now to adapt the main values and attitudes as Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness. Whilst the themes of imperialism and human evil are evident in both texts, Apocalypse Now further builds upon these themes through the manipulation of the concepts of the journey to comment on more relevant issues in society and appeal to a more contemporary audience.

    Both authors use the epic journey to display the journey of self-discovery that both protagonists undertake. Through an analysis of the contexts, mediums and techniques, as well as Sigmund Freud’s model of the human psyche, one is able to understand mankind’s intrinsic evil and the hypocrisy of imperialism as displayed by both Conrad and Coppola. Imperialism throughout the African continent in the early 19th Century, labelled the Scramble for Africa, sought to amplify white man’s omnipotence by supposedly bringing civilisation to the indigenous countries of Africa.

    Heart of Darkness, a fictionalized account of Joseph Conrad’s personal experiences as the captain of a steamboat in the Congo in 1890, was one of the first novellas to criticize white supremacy, and further exhibit the hypocrisy of imperialism and the inclination of mankind towards darkness. Through the use of Marlow’s first person perceptions, it gives the responder an opportunity to gain a more acute insight into his personal attitude towards the African continent.

    Thus, further highlighting the misapprehended European-made views, helping to display the faults and subordination of the revailing paradigms of British Colonial Imperialism and ultimately, mankind’s intrinsic evil. Similarly, Apocalypse Now was one of the first films of its time to challenge the Vietnam War, primarily focusing on the motives of the American government in Vietnam. An adaptation of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Apocalypse Now explores the U. S. interventionist imperialism, rather than British Colonial Imperialism in Conrad’s novella. However, Copolla has successfully implemented the themes of imperialism, madness and evil in his contemporary context.

    The motives of the American Government in Vietnam are challenged by portraying the U. S. army conquering the ‘savages’ of Vietnam, and ‘saving’ them from a serious communism threat. Like Heart of Darkness, Coppola appropriates the concept of the Epic journey into a thoughtful journey of self-discovery that eventuates to the ultimate realization; that mankind’s heart is ultimately connected to evil. Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness uses the main protagonist Marlow to display the hypocrisy of imperialism and the darkness of mankind.

    Although Conrad produced his text well before Sigmund Freud published “Beyond the Pleasure Principle,” Heart of Darkness explores concepts that contribute and develop Freud’s model. Marlow’s journey up the snake-like Congo symbolizes the Freudian journey that is both physical and metaphorical. Upon the commencement of his journey, the river fascinated Marlow, as he describes it as, “an immense snake uncoiled, its head in the sea… its tail lost in the depths of the land… the snake had charmed me.

    Conrad creates the image of a metaphorical snake and compares it to the river, conjuring ominous connotations foreshadowing the evil that will be discovered by Marlow and his team. At the outer station, Marlow encounters the Super Ego in Freud’s model. Upon arriving, he notices “a white man, in such an unexpected elegance of get up” amidst “black shadows of disease and starvation. ” The stark juxtaposition between the two images represents the sub-standard European views of the unknown, and the barbaric treatment that white man have bestowed upon them.

    Marlow’s realization to the darkness of mankind and hypocrisy of imperialism begins, as he undertakes a change in his inner psyche. After meeting the manager at the Central Station who represents the Ego, Marlow continues to finding the ‘heart of darkness’ and Kurtz, the Id in Freud’s model. Upon his journey, Conrad manipulates the environment to further foreshadow the evil that awaits the steamboat. They travel through a “white fog…more blinding than the night,” 8 miles out from the inner station. The image of fog, which hides the jungle and natives, symbolizes civilisation blinding itself from the primitive darkness at the heart of mankind.

    As Joseph Conrad once said himself, “the darkness of the landscape can lead to the darkness of social corruption,” and as Marlow travels further down the Congo, he gets closer and closer to the ‘heart of darkness’ until he encounters Kurtz, the Id in Freud’s model. Kurtz, once the epitome of a civilised man, transformed himself into a god to the natives, summarised when Conrad writes, “the lake tribe…adored him. ” It is here that Marlow understands how exposure to imperialism can introduce the evil that is ultimately connected to mankind’s heart. Kurtz’s final words of “The horror! The horror! ” highlights the immoral experiences he has witnessed, which has forced him into a state of ultimate depravity. Through Marlow’s epic journey, he reaches an ultimate realization that mankind’s heart is ultimately connected to evil, which is highlighted through the hypocrisy of imperialism. Francis Ford Coppola’s film Apocalypse Now adapts the key concepts of Joseph Conrad’s novella, but introduces it in a new context to highlight the darkness of mankind and the hypocrisy of imperialism. Set in the midst of the Vietnam War, Coppola uses U. S.

    Interventionist Imperialism to comment on more political issues in order to appeal to a contemporary audience. Apocalypse Now opens with the destruction of the Vietnam jungle, immediately commenting on the hypocrisy of the governments ostensible ‘aid’ under the U. S. interventionist imperialism policy. Coppola’s use of cinematic slow motion emphasizes to the viewer the irony of ‘helping’ the Vietnamese by providing destruction of their natural luscious forests. Also, Coppola uses the background song “The End – The Doors” that begins with a soft acoustic sound before climaxing with percussion, which further accentuates the destruction.

    Willard, the main protagonist in the film, begins with a thirst for a mission. However, just like Marlow, who supported the Company, Willard discovers the ludicrous madness and senseless violence of the Vietnam War on his epic journey. A key scene where this is evident is the attack scene on the Viet Cong village, which is both extremely majestic and absurd. Lieutenant Kilgore authorizes the attack because of the ideal surfing conditions, when he says, “you can get anywhere you want up that river…Hell, a six foot peak. ” His words emphasize to the viewers the degradation of morals and ethics as the commander seeks only personal desires.

    As the attack begins, the use of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” further highlights the sheer madness and absurdity of Vietnam, as Kilgore says, “we use Wagner. It scares the shit out of the slopes. My boys love it! ” Coppola then changes the scene from the majestic helicopters to a victimised village, which further sheds light on the degradation of morals and values through the stark contrast. Also, Coppola uses a high camera view throughout this scene to show the perspective of the Americans, firing upon the natives and emphasizing the ridiculous absurdity of the war.

    Just like Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Coppola uses the phrase “The horror! The horror! ” as Kurtz’s final words to highlight the degradation of his moral qualms and the immoral experiences he has been subject to. Along with this, Coppola masks half of Kurtz’s face with darkness, further emphasizing the evil actions he has committed throughout his time in Vietnam. Francis Ford Coppola’s film Apocalypse Now successfully adapts Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness to display the journey into the ‘interior’ that both Willard and Marlow undertake.

    Both composers use their respective time periods to craft their texts to challenge to social paradigms of time, and shed light on the atrocities that their governments were committing. Francis Ford Coppola recognized the important values and attitudes presented by Conrad in his novella, and through his appropriation, he shows that imperialism is the most evil of actions. It is through this understanding of the negativity of imperialism that we discover the truth; mankind in intrinsically evil.

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