‘Apocalypse Now’ – Good Adapration of ‘heart of Darkness’

Apocalypse now is a film directed by Francis Coppola which is based on the novella Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. In the novella, the readers follow Marlow’s journey upriver to eventually meet Kurtz, a trader of ivory and the commander of a trading post in Africa. Coppola’s film flows similarly with Willard an Army Captain, who receives orders to creep up Nung river to meet and assassinate a turncoat soldier, Col. Walter Kurtz. In this adaptation, Coppola was able to successfully maintain the structure of Conrad’s novella by including modernized variations that represent the themes of the plot effectively.

Apocalypse Now and Heart of Darkness both examine dehumanizing aspects of colonialism. Heart of Darkness takes place in Africa during the Colonial period where it explores various atrocities committed on innocent people, parallel to this, Apocalypse now takes place during the Vietnam war with the same dehumanizing crimes being committed. A good film adaptation must include appropriate representation of themes which flow in a similar way to the novella, it can be analyzed that Coppola accomplished this idea effectively in his film. As an example, Conrad brings up aspects of the journey including gruesome murders of innocent natives. Apocalypse now brings the mistreatment of the native Vietnamese, specifically in a scene in which the natives are being viciously killed with the complete loss of morals for the victim. This was a necessary scene that depicts the dehumanization themes of the story in a similar way that Heart of Darkness does which further enhances the success of this film’s adaptation.

A significant difference in Apocalypse Now compared to Heart of Darkness is the assassination of Col. Kurtz. This is an important variation of the plot because it does not directly follow the storyline of Heart of Darkness but at the same time continues to portray the main theme effectively. This variation is most effective because it can accurately portray Willard’s modernized character while still sticking true to the original story’s subject. In the last ending scenes of Apocalypse now, Willard assassinates Col. Kurtz and leaves the hut, he sees all of Kurtz’s followers and hesitates for a second as he thinks about his chance to become Kurtz successor. After a moment, however, he returns to his boat. This scene specifically illustrates how Willard can escape the fate which anticipated Kurtz while still coming to face with the “impenetrable darkness” (CITE) which challenges his moral beliefs, just as Marlow has when he came to face with Kurtz intended. It is through this meeting that Marlow begins to question his most basic moral beliefs.

Lastly, we can begin to compare Captain Willard to Conrad’s, Marlow. It is important to understand the importance of the changes made between Marlow and Willard and how they are relevant to the accurate representation of the original plot. Marlow is an ordinary person in Heart of Darkness, more or less; the only ordinary man in the entire novella. Consequently, Willard had to serve the same function in the updated Apocalypse now adaptation, in other words, Willard cannot remain as Marlow in the film. Cappola, therefore, changes the character to represent Willard as Marlow in the 20th century where both characters are the only normal people who are both outsiders 一 Marlow never fits in with the corrupt and immoral Company while Willard does not play by the usual army rules. Character aura similarities also include; Willard, just as Marlow is a mysterious character whose journey creates more and more entrancement towards Kurtz the closer they get to their destination.

The countless parallels between the two pieces come together in the most efficient way to express important themes of the original story by Joseph Conrad. It is a film that quotes major events from the Heart of Darkness while still maintaining successful variations in the storyline, such as character changes of Willard and Marlow, setting change and story ending. Changes as such capture the many themes and ideas of the original novella while still maintaining its unique art and originality. 

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'Apocalypse now' - good adapration of 'heart of darkness'. (2021, Mar 16). Retrieved October 6, 2022 , from

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