Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now Essay

"Heart of Darkness" and "Apocalypse Now" Essay

Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" and Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse  Now"
Most of the story in Heart of Darkness is told by one of the main characters – Charles Marlow, whose appearance is given by the author as following: “he had sunken cheeks, a yellow complexion, a straight back, an ascetic aspect, and, with his arms dropped the palms of his hands outwards, resembled an idol” (p.16). He seems to be the only character, whose exterior and interior character is clearly seen, the reader has the chance to trace his ideological development, development of his attitudes and values. For example his view towards women: “It’s queer how out of touch with truth women are.” (p.28). Women are therefore associated with the civilized European world, left behind, which is too distant from the evils of colonization in Africa.    


A focus is made on another main character – Kurtz. There’s no other possibility for the reader to imagine his character as only from others’ descriptions, as he never presents his character himself, he is somewhat presented in some minor characters also. If to judge his actions objectively - they do present the enterprise of colonization. To Marlowe Kurtz is represented by some African clerk: “… a very remarkable person…”(p37). This description was given in the first chapter and it doesn’t really coincide with those of manager and his nephew: “pestilential fellow…” (p.57). In the final chapter Kurtz’s madness is contrasted clearly through: “Nevertheless, I think Mr. Kurtz is a remarkable man,” I said with emphasis. He started, dropped on me a cold heavy glance, said very quietly, “He was,” and turned his back on me.” (p.101).

Kurtz’s madness remains without motivation, as the reader is still not aware of his inner character, and even his final response to the Marlowe’s question: “Do you know what you are doing?” I whispered. “Perfectly,” he answered… (p.106). The readers are not given any kind of justification or revealing explanation as for the Kurtz’s actions and colonization itself, which he is supposed to embody.
Within the whole novel all the events, ideas and places are characterized with two images: light and darkness. It is of course a metaphor, used to present knowledge and civility with light and mystery and savagery with darkness. As Marlow goes deeper and deeper into the jungles, his attitudes change, he remarks: “I’ve seen the devil of violence, and the devil of greed, and the devil of hot desire; but, by all the stars! These were strong, lusty, red-eyed devils, that swayed and drove men - men, I tell you. But as I stood on the hillside, I foresaw that in the blinding sunshine of that land I would become acquainted with a flabby, pretending, weak-eyed devil of a rapacious and pitiless folly. How insidious he could be, too, I was only to find out several months later”. This idea is of course reflected in the title of the story. The heart of darkness symbolizes Marlow’s journey into the discovery of truth and means more than just wild madness of the Congo.  When Marlow himself is describing Kurtz, he says: “The wilderness had found him out early, and had taken on him a terrible vengeance for the fantastic invasion. I think it had whispered to him things about himself which he did not know things of which he had no conception till he took counsel with this great solitude and the whisper had proved irresistibly fascinating. It echoed loudly within him because he was hollow at the core.” (p.74).
Conrad in his Heart of Darkness presents the contrast between civilization and primitives, which he tries to use to explore the human self. On a symbolic level the word “heart” could mean first of all life and emotion, but also some place of central importance.  This light of reason against darkness of primal, but evil is bounded with truth, than the light is simply a lie…
There’s the same conflict between good and evil, between rational and irrational in human’s heart if depicted in the film by Coppola Apocalypse Now.

The film’s story was of course indirectly inspired by Joseph Conrad’s novella. The film is about the US Army assassin’s mission, also a kind of mental and physical journey, which reflects the reality of the Vietnam conflict. This film was called a brilliant evocation of the madness and horrors of war. The film was nominated for 8 Academic rewards, but got only 2: Best Cinematography (Vittorio Storaro) and Best Sound.
The film presents some on the one hand lyrical and slow-moving, and on the other hand brutal and destructive combination of events of war in Vietnam. Traditional opening credits and titles are avoided and the title of the film we can see as graffiti towards the end of the film in the complex presided over by Kurtz.
The whole film seems to be a hallucination of the Vietnam War. It tells us about the American captain Willard, who is to make a journey through the jungle, having a special mission to terminate colonel Kurtz, who has his own war with the army of locals, and thus the whole mission becomes a trip into madness. This is a war movie, which is not alike with others, this is a spectacular opera with onward plot. It is actually the journey of Willard to realizing the process of penetrating of one of the best soldiers in the army (Kurtz) into the reality of war, that he could not avoid madness and despair. Willard says: “On the river, I thought that the minute I looked at him I’d know what to do. But it didn’t happen. I was in there with him for days. Not under guard. I was free. But he knew I wasn’t going anywhere. He knew more about what I was going to do than I did.” Kurtz felt himself a God of some region inside the enemy’s territory, having his own army to rule. A bright moment of the film is when he tells Willard about one day, when Special forces inoculated the children of some village: “… This old man came running after us and he was crying, he couldn’t see. We went back there, and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile, a pile of little arms…”
    One of the hardest moments of the film is when helicopter attack on a Vietnam village. It was led by Col. Kilgore and swoop down on a yard with schoolchildren, with the music “Ride of the Valkyries” playing through loudspeakers. The actor ( Robert Duvall) got an Oscar for his performance and his bright words: “I love the smell of napalm in the morning”.
There’s also another scene, when the patrol boat stops a fishing boat with a family on board. When a little girl made an attempt to run after her puppy, fire was opened and the whole family was shot, only the mother was not quite dead. The boat chief wanted to provide her a medical help, but Williard shot her, he could not let anything delay his mission.
In his Apocalypse Now Coppola did his best to create a transposition Jospeh Conrad’s classic novel Heart of Darkness into horror situation of the Vietnam War. These are both stories about fears, madness, war hardship, death, correlation of different cultures. Looking for Kurtz, Marlow is looking for himself, he has not bad intentions as for Congo. The aim of the author is to show, that Marlow is actually what Kurtz used to be and Kurtz is a prototype of what Marlow could become. The characters have the chance to contrast their self and explore them with the help of wilderness and savages, surrounding them.
Kurtz spent enough time in Congo to feel absolutely isolated from his own culture, where he was believed to be a honorable personality. Now he has changed a lot, some evil side, which could be found in any person has now come outside and is leading his desire to have power, moreover, he wants to be worshipped as God. He allows the black side of his soul take a complete control over him and his actions. The understanding of some evil part of human’s soul came to Marlow after the Kurtz’s death.
It is clear that the Coppola’s movie is based on the book by Joseph Conrad. Captain Willard has the same mission as Marlow, just different destinations. A well respected, honored, talented leader – Kurtz is obsessed with the ideas and of war and finds himself absolutely under the influence of the foreign for him culture. His insanity starts when he can not deal properly all the terrible war times, fear of absolutely different cultures. American culture of course treats that of Vietnamese as something much more simple, the same as Marlow looked down at the Africans. The hardest thing about all that is to realize that such kind of superiority is not real. It is always natural for more technologically developed cultures to look down the less developed ones, but two persons from each just need to have a contact and the same inner “structure” of the personality comes out: evil side is coexisting with a good one. One should really explore thoroughly his inside world to have the chance to understand the ideas and actions of Kurtz. The conditions, that surround some individual can influence directly on his personal and even perceived sense of identity.
Both the film and the novel have more in common, the difference lies of course in historical periods and situations, which certainly could have different reasons, purposes, mentality and society, but for any society there’s nothing more ruining, depressing, destroying both morally, mentally and physically than war, besides some negative collision, conflict of cultures can influence negatively the person’s mind and psycho. Both works present a powerful exploration into the unconscious, deepest corners of human’s soul, when Marlow discovers it in himself and in Kurtz, he says: “I had – for my sins, I suppose – to go through the ordeal of looking into it [his soul] myself… I saw the inconceivable mystery of a soul that knew no restraint, no faith and no fear, yet struggling blindly with itself.”
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