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need help
« on: June 08, 2003, 04:08:50 PM »
i'm supposed to hand in this paper by next wednesday. its title is "apocalypse now: a film adaptation of heart of darkness?". could someone (with brains) please check spelling and grammar... you may also drop some thoughts on the topic... thanks

Apocalypse Now: A Film Adaptation of Heart of Darkness?"

1. Introduction
Much has been said about Apocalypse Now being a film adaptation of Heart of Darkness. Interestingly enough, no reference to the novella is made in the screen credits, though. How come? As a matter of fact, Conrad’s book was mentioned first, but removed after one of the three writers listed as authors, i.e. John Milius, Francis Ford Coppola and Michael Herr, protested through the Screen Writer’s Guild (cf. Phillips, p.135). It is generally thought among film critics and fans that it was John Milius who disagreed with citing Heart of Darkness in the credits, because he was afraid that it would minimize the contribution to the screenplay by himself an his co-writers (cf. Phillips, 136). This makes sense if one takes a closer look at the plot structure and narrative technique of both book and film, and gives heed to the wealth of similarities as far as the settings, the characters and the role of light and darkness are concerned.
Yet it is the encounter of Captain Benjamin Willard and Colonel Walter E. Kurtz that constitutes the point when Apocalypse Now and Heart of Darkness part company and develop differently. Unlike Marlow, Willard is not a sailor assigned to find a lost ivory trader but an assassin hired to locate and eliminate a renegade army officer. Furthermore, in contrast to the novella, Coppola’s Kurtz is not just “a voice”  but becomes a real person at the film’s climax.
Against the backdrop of these parallels and inconsistencies it will be my task to find out whether Apocalypse Now is a film adaptation of Heart of Darkness or not. Indeed a difficult task. May the quest begin.

2. Heart of Darkness: The “Spine” of Apocalypse Now
2.1. Plot Structure and Narrative Technique
Heart of Darkness is set in the Congo in the 1890s and deals with the story of Charlie Marlow, a British mariner working for a European ivory import/ export company. By contrast, Apocalypse Now takes place in the late 1960s and focuses on the experiences of American army officer Benjamin Willard. At first sight Conrad’s novella and Coppola’s film appear to be quite different. Nevertheless, if one leaves aside the seemingly different settings and backgrounds and scrutinizes the stories’ plots instead, the parallels are glaringly obvious. In her article “Narratological Parallels in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now” film scholar Linda Constanzo Cahir points out that the way in which the stories are narrated is “splendidly similar” (Phillips, p.136) and demonstrates the fundamental parallels between book and film (cf. Phillips, p.136f.). According to
Cahir, “each tale-proper begins with the protagonists explanation of how he got the appointment which necessitated his excursion up river” (Phillips, p.136): while Marlow is assigned to travel up the Congo river in order to find Mr. Kurtz, an ivory trader who got lost in the jungle, Willard is asked to journey up the Nung to locate and “terminate with extreme prejudice” (French, p.221) Colonel Walter E. Kurtz , a renegade army officer who has raised his own army to fight the Vietcong on his own terms. In addition, as Cahir elaborates, both Marlow and Willard think about the character of the man they were given the task to seek, each with the help of information gathered in the course of the journey (cf. Phillips, p.137). Finally, as Cahir concludes, the last stop in both novella and film “is the soul-altering confrontation with the mysterious Kurtz” (Phillips, p.137). To summarize, what Apocalypse Now and Heart of Darkness have in common is a plot structure consisting of the three elements “appointment”, “journey up the river” and “meeting with Kurtz.”
Another important element which brings Coppola’s film closer to Conrad’s book is certainly the narrative technique applied. At first sight Marlow and Willard seem to be the narrators of the novella and the film. In contrast to an external narrator, who gives an account of someone else’s life and/or reports certain events from an outside perspective, they are re-telling a past episode of their own life. Hence both Marlow and Willard are internal narrators. Moreover, the fact that each character also comments on the experiences makes them even internal subjective narrators. Nevertheless, it is neither the sailor nor the assassin who tells the story to the reader/viewer. In Heart of Darkness it is an invisible narrator, a crewmember of the Nellie, who reports back to the reader, while in Apocalypse Now it is the camera’s eye that controls what we see on screen. Thus in both Apocalypse Now and Heart of Darkness the narrative technique applied can be called oblique narration. As a result, Apocalypse Now and Heart of Darkness do not only share an almost identical plot structure, but also a similar narrative technique.

2.2. The Settings
As already mentioned, the places, time periods and backgrounds of Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now are quite different: Conrad’s novella is set in the Congo at the turn of the 20th century and thus in the heyday of colonization, whereas Coppola’s film takes place in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. A closer look, however, will again reveal a whole host of similarities. For example, in both stories the main protagonist gets his appointment at the headquarters of the corporation he is working for - the Company in Brussels and the COMSEC at Nha Trang respectively. Thereafter Marlow and Willard are taken to the mouth of the rivers they are about to travel on. These rivers are either unnamed, which is the case as for the Congo river, or fictional - the Nung river, clearly intended to be the Mekong. Besides, each river is referred to as being snake-like (cf. Conrad, p.16 & Dirks, In the course of the journey on the rivers both characters are confronted with the omnipresence of the Company’s and the COMSEC’s “employees”: in Heart of Darkness the colonization of the Congo is pushed forward by
“custom-house officers” (Conrad, p.16), who - protected by soldiers - penetrate deeper and deeper into the wilderness. In Apocalypse Now it is the U.S. Army that invades the country and advances further and further into the Vietnamese jungle to pursue “Charlie”. In both the novella and film imperialism is at work and natives who come across are either enslaved and demonised or just pursued and killed. Under the impression of these experiences each protagonist finally arrives at the
station/compound of the man they were assigned to seek. In both book and film Kurtz’s realm is portrayed in almost the same manner: lying behind a curtain of fog, with severed heads scattered all over and shrouded in eternal darkness, this place resembles hell rather than a station or a military compound. Here, deep in the interior of the jungle, Kurtz has established his own kingdom. The fact that his camp is located in the jungle is of central importance. When asked why he chose to adapt Conrad’s novella, the film’s co-scripter John Milius said the following:
“The scene in it where they actually shoot at the continent of Africa.The boat is there firing into the jungle trying to punish the continent of Africa, and that reminded me very much of Vietnam. The novel is full of that kind of image of what little effect Victorian culture has on the growth of trees, of how quickly the jungle overcomes everything, how absurd and futile it is for missionaries to go into this dark jungle. This seemed to me to be very like Vietnam” (French, p.122)
In both Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now the jungle “is a consuming power, symbolic of primordial evil and darkness” (French, p.122), or to use Marlow’s words:  “smiling, frowning, inviting, grand, mean, insipid or savage, and always with an air of whispering” (Conrad, p.16). The jungle serves as counterpart to civilization and the seemingly safe framework of rationality and restraint that society provides man with. Kurtz’s station/compound, which is lying deep in the jungle, thus represents the complete absence of these elements. The fact that Coppola made use of the jungle as a setting for his story in almost the same manner as Conrad did in Heart of Darkness, not only connects the book and the film, it also proves that similar developments can take place at any time - despite different time periods and circumstances.

2.3. Characters
The mysterious Kurtz and the main protagonist Willard apart, there is a quite number of characters in Apocalypse Now that allude to those in Heart of Darkness.# For example, in both stories the main character’s predecessor fell prey to the heart of darkness: while Marlow’s forerunner, the Dane Fresleven, got killed by natives in a quarrel over two black hens (cf. Conrad, p.12), Captain Richard Colby, the officer sent to eliminate Kurtz before Willard, was reported missing in action, but after a letter to his wife saying that he would never come back was intercepted, it became clear that he had joined Kurtz’s forces in the jungle (cf. French, p.34). Ironically, Freslevens’s death and the disappearance of Colby are misinterpreted by both Marlow and Willard. What might have been a warning is either seen as a “chance” (Conrad, p.12) or even increases the desire to meet Kurtz.
As for the film’s most impressive character, Colonel Bill Kilgore, a comparison to the manager of the Central Station can be drawn. Just like his equivalent in Heart of Darkness, Air Cavalry commander Kilgore, who is dressed like General Custer, only cares about his own success. Even under the worst conditions both of them are seemingly invincible: while the manager remains healthy despite tropical diseases which “had laid low almost every ‘agent’ in the station” (Conrad, p.36), Kilgore does not even pay attention to shells dropping around him when he and his men attack a Vietnamese Village at the beach. Instead, he walks around bare-chested, looking for a good wave for his soldiers to surf on. It is this ability to stay healthy that enables Kilgore and the G.M. to control their people. But, in contrast to Kilgore who is rather popular with his men, the manager has to rely more on his ability to inspire “uneasiness” (Conrad, p.24) in order to be obeyed. Besides, as Marlow suggests, the G.M. is indeed a great man, but seems to be empty inside, a hollow man actually (cf. Conrad, p.25).
Another character that occurs in book and film is the black helmsman/Chief Phillips. In both Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now he is killed by a native’s spear during an attack on the boat. Nevertheless, there are some differences with regard to his role and behaviour. Unlike his unnamed equivalent in the novella, Chief Phillips is not just an ordinary fireman, but the captain of the boat Willard travels on. Furthermore, his behaviour towards the army officer becomes increasingly hostile in the course of the journey - at the moment of his death he even tries to kill Willard. By contrast, Conrad’s helmsman is a helper under the command of Marlow, who is the steamboat’s captain. According to the English sailor, he is just another savage that needs looking after (cf. Conrad, p.38), a “poor devil” (Conrad, p.38), who “was useful because he had been instructed” (Conrad, p.39) - in other words, made efficient and thus to some degree civilized. Besides, the helmsman is an object of fascination, as Marlow’s thoughts - especially at the sight of the man’s death (cf. Conrad, p.43) - indicate. Even though this character is limited to the role of a tool in both book and film, the way the main protagonists deal with his death is quite different: while Marlow even misses his helper and gives him a water burial (cf. Conrad, p.51f.), Willard does not seem to care at all about Phillips’ death and only focuses on his future meeting with Kurtz.
Interestingly enough, it is not until Willard’s arrival upon Kurtz’s compound that the character most like his equivalent in Heart of Darkness appears: the demented photo journalist. Reminiscent in his looks of Charles Manson, he seems to be an updated version of the Russian harlequin Marlow meets when he reaches Kurtz’s station. Most of his speech his taken verbatim from Conrad’s novella, starting with the introductory “It’s all right” (French, p.183) up to his statements about the influence Kurtz has on his mind, etc. (cf. French, pp.183-186). The fact that Coppola replaced the fool with a photographer might be of significance: during the Vietnam War photographers “received special accreditation and were able to travel relatively freely and safely” (French, p.182) - just like medieval fools they lived “between worlds”, free to come and go. Moreover, by portraying the photo journalist as a crazy and hyperactive, Charles-Manson-like type of guy, Coppola brought the character even closer to Conrad’s harlequin and made him both funny and dangerous.

2.4. The Role of Light and Darkness
Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now are not just accounts of a man’s trip into the dark and misty interior of the Congolese and Vietnamese jungle, but rather portrayals of a journey from civilization to savagery and from reason to madness. In Conrad’s novella the role of light and darkness is extremely relevant as far as the seemingly disparate realms of civilization and savagery are concerned. When Marlow begins his narrative with telling how the Romans conquered England, he equates light with civilization itself (cf. Conrad, p.9f.). By contrast, darkness is associated with “utter savagery” (Conrad, p.10) and “all that mysterious life of the wilderness that stirs in the forest, in the jungles, in the heart of wild men” (Conrad, p.10), i.e. nature and the total absence of civilization. However, as Marlow proceeds into the African jungle, this distinction gradually changes. The process of change is often symbolized by shade, mist and fog: when leaving the sunshine on a hill at the Outer Station and entering the shade of a group of trees where black workers had lain down to die, the sailor does not encounter pure darkness but darkness filled with “dim light” (Conrad, p.20). He spots a hungry black boy that “had tied a bit of white worsted round his neck” (Conrad, p.20) -  “a thread from beyond the seas” (Conrad, p.21) and thus from the civilized, enlightened world. Although Marlow is appalled at the sight and does not know what to make of it, both the dim light and the white scrap of cloth are first signs of what he is about to realize later on. While travelling towards the Inner Station, he begins to under-stand that there is no clear distinction between light and darkness, between civilization and savagery, that it is only a matter of time which distinguishes the civilized man from the uncivilized savage (cf. Conrad, pp.35-38). Furthermore, Marlow also becomes aware of the fact that the process of bringing the light of civilization, of “humanising, improving, instructing” (Conrad, p.34) the savage, not only causes the natives great pain, but also has devastating effects on the colonizer. Driven by their greed for white [sic!] ivory and confronted with the darkness of the jungle and its inhabitants, they revert back to their darker, savage tendencies and are eaten up by “the fascination of the abomination” (Conrad, p. 10). This fits perfectly well with regard to Mr. Kurtz and the depiction of his station. Again light and darkness have quite important roles: lying behind a massive wall of fog and engulfed by darkness, the ivory trader’s station is a ”lightless region of subtle horrors” (Conrad, p.58), where reason and method do not exist. In addition, he himself seems to be an “impenetrable darkness” (Conrad, p.68) shortly before he dies. Since “all Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz“ (Conrad, p.50), the meaning of the final remark in the novella that the Western world is also “the heart of an immense darkness” (Conrad, p.76)  becomes even more obvious: darkness is not limited to foreign parts of the world, but also exists within civilization and ourselves. Despite the restraining framework of society, a never-ending battle is going on between light and darkness, civilization and savagery and between the conscious and the unconscious. Sometimes, under certain circumstances, the latter wins.
In Apocalypse Now the role of light and darkness is closely linked to this battle of rationality versus irrationality that rages within every single human being. Unlike Conrad, who was forced to rely on the power of written words, Coppola and his director of photography, Vittorio Storaro, were able to catch the struggle and the resulting ambiguities in visual form. While they were shooting the movie, Heart of Darkness again became a highly influential source, as Storaro reveals:
“… It was through Conrad, in part, and the title of his novella
Heart of Darkness on which Coppola’s film is based, that I began
to re-evaluate everything that went before. The concept of ‘darkness’ was revealing. It is where light ends. But I also realised that darkness is not the absence of light but the antithesis of light. In other words,they are aspects of each other. Light and dark are not only metaphors but the means by which we perceive and understand.” (French, p.216)
The meaning of Storaro’s statement becomes evident if one takes a closer look at two sequences: first, Willard’s meeting at Nha Trang, and second, the encounter of Willard and Kurtz. At Nha Trang, the sinister General tells Willard that “there’s a conflict in every human heart between the rational and the irrational, between the good evil and good does not always triumph” (French, p.88). Interestingly enough, one side of his head is always lighted, while the other side is constantly dark. Hence the bright side seems to represent rationality, whereas the dark side is apparently supposed to indicate irrationality and evil. Considering the fact that light and darkness are balanced and clearly separated, one could infer that the General’s mental state is indeed threatened and definitely influenced by his irrational and evil potential, but still all right. By contrast, when the viewer witnesses the first encounter of Willard and Kurtz, the Colonel’s bald head only emerges slowly yet never fully out of the darkness into the light. Again light and darkness are present, but this time darkness prevails, suggesting that irrationality has completely gained the upper hand. This impression gets hardened as Kurtz is never seen in full light, but always embedded in some kind of darkness and gloom.
Since the principle of light and darkness being aspects of one another is also applied to portray several other scenes, e.g. the crew’s stop at the underworld-like [sic!] Do Long bridge or Willard’s and Chef’s encounter with a tiger in the gloomy jungle, it becomes quite quite clear that the role of light and darkness in Apocalypse Now is just as important as in Heart of Darkness.

3. The Encounter of Willard and Kurtz
3.1. The Interrogation
Upon their arrival at Kurtz’s shocking, Angkor-Wat-like compound, Willard and the two remaining members of the Erebus’# crew, Chef and Lance, are greeted by a mud-painted Montagnard# army and the demented photo journalist. After a short “sightseeing trip” and a strange conversation with the photographer the army officer is granted an audience with the renegade Colonel. Chef, however, resolves to stay in the boat and is given the special code
“Almighty” to call help in case of emergency. The fact that the U.S. Army Command calls itself “Almighty” - in other words, God - is not only an indication of the military’s hubris at that particular period of time, but may also be a broad hint that American society in general thinks that it can get whatever it wants - wherever and whenever. While Chef returns to the boat, Willard, shocked at the sight of all the dead bodies and already convinced of Kurtz being totally insane, is taken to the temple where the madman lives. Inside, he is first struck by the smell of decay and in a dark room he finally meets the man who is to become his destiny. Just like his equivalent in Heart of Darkness, Kurtz is bald-headed and suffering from malaria. But, unlike Conrad’s ivory trader, he is far from wasting away, rather fat and short than a long and thin “image of death” (Conrad, p.59). After a short chat about his background Willard reveals that he was sent here on a mission. The interrogation begins. Taken almost literally from the passage in Heart of Darkness when Marlow and the manager talk about the alarming state of the Outer Station (cf. Conrad, p.61), this scene in Coppola’s film also deals with the topic of “method”:
“Kurtz: What did they tell you?
 Willard: They told me that you had gone totally insane
            and that your methods were unsound.
 Kurtz: Are my methods unsound?
 Willard: I don't see any method at all, sir.”
In both Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now “method” and the ideas associated with it are of central importance. In the novella the manager considers Kurtz’s methods as being “unsound”, as the ivory trader devastated the whole station, participated in native rites, committed unbelievable atrocities among his subordinates and kept all the ivory for himself. Instead of establishing a smoothly running trade station and making as much ivory as possible, he caused “more harm than good to the Company” (Conrad, p.61). In the film the General at Nha Trang regards Kurtz’s methods as inappropriate and “totally beyond the pale of any acceptable conduct“ (Dirks,, since the Colonel had killed a couple of Vietnamese double agents and pours forth random acts of brutality instead of fighting the Vietcong as efficiently as possible. Interestingly enough, both the Company’s and the COMSEC’s representatives do not deny the presence of method but call it “unsound” to indicate that the ivory trader’s and the Colonel’s behavior is harmful to their goals. In principle they do accept and even support the methods. By contrast, Marlow and Willard do not see any method at all. In their eyes method is apparently not just a means of reaching a certain goal, but rather a term connected with reason and most likely even with morality and ethics. Seen from this perspective, Willard’s seemingly emotionless reply to Kurtz’s question if his methods were unsound makes sense: he is horror-struck, unable to comprehend that his encounter with Kurtz is not a meeting with a glorious soldier but with madness itself. Just like is equivalent in Heart of Darkness, the Colonel left the restraining framework of society and in “utter solitude without a policeman” (Conrad, p.49) he fell prey to his primordial instincts. The interrogation continues:
“Kurtz: I expected someone like you. What
          did you expect? Are you an assassin?
 Willard: I'm a soldier.
 Kurtz: You're neither. You're an errand boy,
          sent by grocery clerks to collect the bill.”
As Kurtz’s reaction suggests, he not only is aware of Willard being an assassin, but also realises that the army officer might be shocked by what he just saw. Nevertheless, the Colonel does not dig deeper and asks Willard if he was an assassin. The fact that the army officer responds that he was a soldier is a bit ambiguous: on the one hand, Willard still might try to keep up his cover. But, on the other hand, it could also be an attempt to avoid hypocrisy, as Willard himself said after the meeting with the COMSEC’s representatives at Nha Trang that charging a man with murder in Vietnam was “like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500“ (French, p.10). Kurtz, however, does not enter into that little game and remarks that he was neither an assassin nor a soldier. Instead, the Colonel calls him “an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks to collect the bill” (Dirks, Kurtz here introduces quite a number of interesting ambiguities: first, by calling Willard an errand boy, he not only limits his role to that of a mere tool, but also makes him the scape-goat for delivering a bad message. In ancient and medieval times the bringers of bad messages often faced a cruel fate. Second, by equating the generals at Nha Trang with “grocery clerks”, Kurtz might not just try to make them look like ridiculous figures of fun. Rather, he most likely suggests that they are nothing but contemptible administration employees, who want “to collect the bill” - in other words, see Kurtz dead -, since he long enough has taken advantage of the means available to him for free, has served his purpose and now has become useless - dangerously useless.
The interrogation is over. Willard gets encaged in the heart of darkness.

3.2. The Hollow Men
After a distressing day and an even more horrifying night Willard is released from his imprisonment.  In the meantime he had another strange conversation with the photo journalist and as if that was not enough yet, a camouflage-painted Kurtz  “presented” him with Chef’s severed head. The former saucier, who decided to stay aboard the Erebus, was obviously caught by the Colonel trying to contact “Almighty” after eight hours of futile waiting for his superior.# Recovering from these experiences, Willard sits silently in Kurtz’s rooms and listens to him reading T.S. Eliot’s poem The Hollow Men:
“We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death's other Kingdom” (French, p.106f)
At this point the Colonel gets interrupted by the photo journalist. The fact that Kurtz leaves out the poem’s introduction happens for good reason. The epigraph contains the famous words by the manager’s boy at the sight of Mr. Kurtz’s death in Heart of Darkness:
                           “Mistah Kurtz - he dead”
                                                             (Conrad, p.69)
Inspired by Conrad’s novella, The Hollow Men depicts a world that is both emotionless and spiritually empty, hence lifeless, meaningless and without any kind of value. Human beings are nothing but lonely shades cursed to live in this world. They are dumb, indifferent to their fellow men, frightened of the environment - hollow entities indeed. By having Kurtz read Eliot’s poem, Coppola not only portrays a disillusioning  view of the world, but also creates a further intertextual connection between Apocalypse Now and Heart of Darkness. Moreover, since the introductory “We” in the poem includes the reader, the Colonel integrates into the crowd of shades - just like his equivalent in the novella he is “hollow at the core” (Conrad, p.58). This point is apparently completely missed by the photo journalist. Drowning and thus interrupting Kurtz, he tries to explain to Willard the meaning of why Kurtz is reading this particular poem:
“Oh, he’s out there. He's really out there. Do you hear what the man's saying? Do you? This is dialectics. It's very simple dialectics. One through nine. No maybes, no supposes, no fractions. You can't travel in space. You can't go into in space, you know, without, er, you know, with fractions. What are you going land on? One quarter? Three eighths? What are you going to do when you go from here to Venus or something? That's dialectic physics. Dialectic logic is there's only love and hate. You either love someone or you hate 'em…”(French,p.54)  
While the Colonel regards himself as belonging to the hollow men, his follower obviously excludes him from that group by saying that Kurtz  was “out there”. On the basis of this assumption the photo journalist effusive statement contains quite a few implications: first, Kurtz is beyond human and has reached an almost God-like status. Second, the Colonel cannot be judged, because his person cannot be grasped by man’s mental faculties. Finally, the atrocities committed by Kurtz are not driven by base motives, but represent admirable revolutionary acts to overthrow an inhuman society and establish a new one instead. The photo journalist’s following pronouncements about dialectics thus serve to even intensify the Colonel’s God-like role. Kurtz makes no compromises, he draws clear distinctions, he either loves or hates. Hence in reading Eliot’s poem, Kurtz expresses his absolute loathing of Western society, as its population consists of people who cannot make up their mind and live between the worlds, who do not care about other human beings and act inconsiderately at the expense of their fellow men. These people are hollow men. Against the backdrop of this interpretation the Colonel’s reaction of throwing the book at the photo journalist is quite understandable: he does not try to assume a God-like status and judge his fellow men. On the contrary, Kurtz wanted to emphasize that he is just like them. He is a product of the same society - a “stuffed” man - , unable to deal with his life under the circumstances he is confronted with. The atrocities he has committed are not revolutionary acts but a desperate shout for help by a broken man. The photo journalist seems to realize this inner conflict of Kurtz:
“This is the way the fucking world ends. Look at this fucking shit we're in, man. Not with a bang, but with a whimper. And with a whimper I'm fucking splitting, jack.“ (French, p.54)
With a near quotation of the last line of The Hollow Men and deprived of all his illusions, the Colonel‘s follower silently leaves the building and is never seen again.
Willard, who has been present all the time, feels ambivalent about his mission now. While the camera pans across some books in the Colonel‘s library - The Collected Poems by T.S. Eliot, the Bible, From Ritual to Romance by Jesse L. Weston and The Golden Bough by Sir James Frazer -, the army officer reflects:
“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 gonna do than I did. If the generals back in Nha Trang could see what I saw, would they still want me to kill him? More than ever probably. And what would his people back home want if they ever learned just how far from them he'd really gone? He broke from them and then he broke from
himself. I'd never seen a man so broken up and ripped apart.”
Willard is indeed aware of being the Colonel‘s tool, but he also considers Kurtz to be a broken man. His thoughts at the end recall Marlow in Heart of Darkness. At the sight of the suffering ivory trader the English sailor remarked that Mr. Kurtz “had kicked himself loose of the earth” (Conrad, p.65) and that “his soul was mad” (Conrad, p.65). The latter is clearly the most striking description for Colonel Walter E. Kurtz as well and will become even more obvious in the next chapter.

3.3. The Horrors
Willard now listens to Kurtz speaking of “the horrors” and denying the army officer any moral right to judge his actions or behavior:
“I've seen the horrors, horrors that you've seen. But you have no right to call me a murderer. You have a right to kill me - you have a right to do that - but you have no right to judge me.”
On the surface, “the horrors” Kurtz refers to are obviously the atrocities which have been committed on both the American and Vietnamese side during the whole war in Vietnam. This assumption makes sense, since he includes Willard in having seen these horrors as well. Yet, as his following statements imply, the Colonel might also allude to the acts of cruelty only committed by himself. Oddly enough, the renegade Green Beret grants Willard the right to kill him - clearly a broad hint -, but denies the army officer any right to call him a murderer or morally assess his person. Two reasons for Kurtz’s strong aversion to moral judgement are for certain its inherent dangers to create a double standard and to lie: while the U.S. Army wages are bloody but supposedly legitimate and fair war on the Vietcong, the Colonel is accused of being an immoral assassin after killing several Vietnamese double agents. At Nha Trang, when the COMSEC’s representatives played a tape recording of his voice to Willard, Kurtz himself asks: “What do you call it when the assassins accuse the assassin?” (French, p.10). Nevertheless, as it turns out in the course of his explanations, hypocrisy and the loss of truth are just two aspects of his detestation of moral judgement. Kurtz continues to elaborate on “horror”:
“It's impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror. Horror has a face, and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not, then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies.” (Dirks,
Although the Colonel still fails to clearly define what horror actually means and even introduces the aspect of “moral terror”, his pronouncements open up further insights into his way of thinking. Kurtz remarks that words cannot convey what is necessary to those who do not know the meaning of horror. The use of the phrase “what is necessary” recalls General Corman’s accentuation of “practical military necessity” (Dirks, back at Nha Trang, and thus indicates that the Colonel is not just a simple madman but still thinking like a military officer. This impression is even strengthened by his soldier-like distinction of horror and moral terror being either friends or enemies. Just like his Conrad’s ivory trader, who was seemingly mad, but still concerned about his station and career (cf. Conrad, p.67), Kurtz has not stopped to think in military categories. Proceeding on that assumption the horror Kurtz speaks can indeed be seen as all the inconceivable atrocities committed during the Vietnam War. Hence moral terror is the struggle that rages within the human mind at the sight of these cruelties. Since this horror and moral terror have the potential to break and defeat  a man - in other words, to become true enemies -, Kurtz points out that they have to become friends in order to survive. But, as his demand “to make a friend of the horror” (Dirks, implies, he not only wants some vague kind of moral indifference, but even aims at making use of the horror for military purposes. This intention becomes obvious when Kurtz recalls the crucial turning point in his life. A few years ago his Special Forces went into a South Vietnamese village to vaccinate children against polio. After they had left, Vietcong guerrillas came and hacked off every inoculated arm. Back in the camp, the Colonel was at first appalled and shocked  but then awestruck:
“My God, the genius of that. The genius. The will to do that.
Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure! And then I realized
they were stronger than me because they could stand it. These
were not monsters. These were men -- trained cadres. These men
who fought with their hearts who have families, who have children,
who are filled with love - that they had the strength, the strength to do that. If I had ten divisions of those men, then our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill - without feeling, without passion, without judgment - without judgment. Because it's judgment that defeats us.” (Dirks,
Kurtz’s words do not only prove that he still thinks like a soldier and that he regards ruthless brutality as an integral part of warfare, but they also reveal the true reasons for his actions and behavior. In his eyes the inconceivable act of mutilating innocent children is not a monstrous cruelty, but rather represents utmost determination. The guerrillas are loving family fathers and at same time perfect hit men with a primordial instinct to kill. Since they are able to utilize this instinct if necessary and still stand possible detrimental consequences, Kurtz believes that the Vietcong is stronger than the average American soldier. In order to reverse this superiority and thus to finally win and shorten the war, a new breed of soldier is needed. According to Kurtz, these warriors have to be just like their Vietnamese opponents - a perfect fusion of moral integrity and the unadulterated will to kill without any kind of emotion. The Colonel attaches special importance to a complete lack of judgement, because it’s judgement that defeats a soldier. He thus unfolds the third reason for his loathing of moral assessment: judgement prevents from waging war as efficiently as possible. His rampage is hence nothing else than an attempt to fight a perfect war without scruples.
Against the background of all these revelations “the horror” has quite a few faces: first, it is not limited to the atrocities committed during wartime, but also includes the appalling notion of the ultimate soldier, who is a perfect killing machine that makes well-aimed and completely rational use of violence but at the same time shows himself as a loving family father with moral integrity. Second, “the horror” is also the frightful feeling that these schizophrenic tendencies represented by the Colonel are not only restricted to the times of war, but also exist within society and hence within ourselves - within the hollow men. Finally, as far as the character of Walter E. Kurtz is concerned, his very own horror is definitely the fear to be judged for his actions and behavior. This impression gets proved once again at the end of his monologue, when the Colonel advises Willard to tell his son in the U.S. the real truth about his person - without any kind of lies or evaluation. Thereafter the army officer leaves the building and returns to his boat. In the meantime, a water buffalo sacrifice is being prepared by the inhabitants of Kurtz‘s compound.

3.4. The Sacrifice
On the boat a moral battle rages within Willard. But although secretly identifying and sympathizing with Kurtz and even questioning the commands of his superiors, he finally decides to kill the Colonel - assassins do not judge. Willard returns to the temple and at the same time as the villagers sacrifice the water buffalo the army officer fulfils the mission given to him by “Almighty”. At the moment of his death Kurtz mumbles the famous last words:
“The horror. The horror” (Dirks,
Just like his equivalent in the novella, the Colonel thus leaves the world with “a cry that was no more than a breath” (Conrad, p.68), or to use the last words of Eliot’s poem The Hollow Men: “Not with a bang but a whimper” (French, p.54). But it is not until the film’s ending that the true meaning of his last words will become obvious.
The whole scene is a brilliant allusion to two of the books in Kurtz’s library - Jessie L. Weston’s From Ritual to Romance and The Golden Bough by Sir James Frazer. Weston’s book, which deals with the myth of the Holy Grail, contains several passages on the legend of the Fisher King, the story of a overburdened demigod who desperately needs a visiting stranger on a quest to execute him and become his successor (cf. French, p.86). With reference to Apocalypse Now, the Colonel hence represents the character of the Fisher King and Willard is the knight who is supposed to kill the king and then become the king himself. The aspect of succession is also present in several chapters of Frazer’s book The Golden Bough, a comprehensive study in comparative religion (cf. French, p.83). Yet, as the following passage from The Killing of the Divine King reveals, even bigger importance is attached to the ritual aspect of killing the demigod:
“But no amount of care and precaution will prevent the man-god from growing old and feeble and at last dying. His worshippers have to lay their account with this sad necessity and to meet it as best they can. The danger is a formidable one; for if the course of nature is dependent on the man-god’s life, what catastrophes may not be expected from the gradual enfeeblement of his powers and their final extinction in death? There is only one way of averting these dangers. The man-god must be killed as soon as he shows symptoms that his powers are beginning to fail, and his soul must
be transferred to a vigorous successor before it has been seriously impaired by the threatened decay.”
According to this description, the Colonel is the sick and dying man-god who needs killing in order to keep away harm from his people. The act of killing the man-god has to be per-formed as soon as he shows any kind of weakness, because his soul might be threatened. His spirit is then transferred to a vigorous successor - Willard.
Even tough the influence of Weston‘s and Frazer‘s books on the film and its climax cannot be denied, one important element is missing: the army officer does not succeed the Colonel as the king, but leaves the place instead. Before doing so, Willard sees one of Kurtz‘s type-written documents, where he reads:
“Drop the Bomb - Exterminate Them All!”
Reminiscent of the famous remark to “exterminate all the brutes” (Conrad, p.51) by Conrad’s ivory trader in Heart of Darkness, these words are again quite ambiguous: not only can they refer to the Vietnamese people or the U.S. Army, but even to American society in general. At the sight of this document Willard seats himself for a brief moment - possibly thinking about taking the Colonel’s place -, but then finally leaves the building. Outside he is greeted by the villagers bowing down before and accepting him as their new king. Even though he seems to be tempted again, Willard takes hold of the hands of the Erebus’ only surviving crewmember, Lance, and enters the boat. A transmission by “Almighty” comes in,
indicating that an air strike is imminent. While Willard pulls way, Kurtz’s last words are echoed again:
“The horror. The horror”
This time the words are meant for Willard. Unlike Marlow, he is not saved but cursed. In approaching and confronting the heart of darkness, the army officer sacrificed his own soul.

4. Conclusion
Is Apocalypse Now a film adaptation of Heart of Darkness? I tend to say both yes and no. On the one hand, the film’s narratological structure, several characters, incidents and expressions are not only similar but clearly derived from the novella. Conrad’s book is apparently the perfect basis for the portrayal of a man’s journey into the darkness of the jungle and his own heart. Besides, the movie’s co-writer John Milius even admitted that Heart of Darkness served as the main pattern of the film . But, on the other hand, Apocalypse Now contains various and important elements from other literal sources as well. Apart from those books already mentioned, Michael Herr’s personal journal of the Vietnam War, i.e. Dispatches , Homer’s The Odyssey, Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy, Rudyard Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King and, as the movie’s title implies, the Book of Revelation in the New Testament also played highly influential roles in the making of the film. Moreover, the most impressive scenes in Apocalypse Now, Kilgore’s attack on a Vietnamese village accompanied by Wagner’s The Ride of the Valkyries and the encounter of Willard and Kurtz, do not appear in Heart of Darkness or develop differently. Honestly speaking, I cannot make a clear an final decision against the backdrop of these parallels and contradictions. Rather, I would like to reverse a former decision of mine: I once stated in presentation in class that Vietnam was not the Congo, the 1960s were not the turn of the 20th century, war was not colonialism and hence Apocalypse Now was not Heart of Darkness. I was too quick to judge. Instead of putting too much emphasis on the contrast, I should have tried to somehow add six simple words: quite different but still very similar.

5. Sources
- Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Ed. Robert Kimbrough. 3rd ed. New York: Norton, 1988.
- Coppola, Francis Ford, dir. Apocalypse Now Redux. Perf. Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Martin Sheen, Laurence Fishburne, Dennis Hopper, Harrison Ford. 1979. DVD. BMG, 2002.
- Dirks, Tim. “Apocalypse Now (Redux).” Greatest Films 1996 - 2002. Jan 9 2003. <>.
- Dirks, Tim. “Apocalypse Now (Redux).” Greatest Films 1996 - 2002. Jan 9 2003. <>.
- Dirks, Tim. “Apocalypse Now (Redux).” Greatest Films 1996 - 2002. Jan 9 2003. <>.
- French, Karl. Karl French on Apocalypse Now. Bloomsbury Movie Guide No.1. New York, 1999.
- Frazer, Sir James George. The Golden Bough - A Study in Magic and Religion. 1922. Ed. Steven van Leeuwen. 1999. Jan 9 2003. <>
- Phillips, Gene D. Conrad and Cinema - The Art of Adaptation. Ars Interpretandi Vol.4. New York: Peter Lang, 1995.



  • Muthafuckin' Don!
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Re:need help
« Reply #1 on: June 08, 2003, 04:19:16 PM »
was isn das? also facharbeit zB
Cause I don't care where I belong no more
What we share or not I will ignore
And I won't waste my time fitting in
Cause I don't think contrast is a sin
No, it's not a sin


  • Guest
Re:need help
« Reply #2 on: June 08, 2003, 04:23:15 PM »
was isn das? also facharbeit zB

hausarbeit für die uni....


  • Guest
Re:need help
« Reply #3 on: June 09, 2003, 10:55:51 AM »
I'll read through it fully later. Looks good.


  • Guest
Re:need help
« Reply #4 on: June 09, 2003, 01:59:12 PM »
I'll read through it fully later. Looks good.

thanks  ;)