How and why did Coppola transform Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" into "Apocalypse Now"?

Essay by DaGizzaHigh School, 11th grade January 2007

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Coppola transforms "Heart of Darkness" into "Apocalypse Now" to reveal Conrad's messages in a more modern context. Coppola spreads the ideas of Heart of Darkness in a different medium, causing him to use a different variety of techniques. Heart of Darkness is a novel where Marlow, the protagonist, recounts his journey on the Congo River during the Leopold period of history. Similarly, Apocalypse Now is a film about Willard, who describes his journey on the Mekong River during the Vietnam War. The anti-imperialism theme in Heart of Darkness is changed into an anti-war theme in Apocalypse Now. Furthermore, the film substitutes the hypocritical nature of the Belgians to the comparable hypocritical nature of the Americans. Although it is discussed to a lesser extent, Coppola explores the dark side of the human race just as Conrad does.

Coppola converts the anti-imperialistic criticisms of Heart of Darkness into an anti-war film because of the different historical context of each text.

Despite the fact that the book never mentions any specific names, Heart of Darkness is critical of Leopold's exploitation of the Congolese people. Marlow describes the natives with derogatory language such as "they were dying slowly," "moved about like ants," and were "clinging to the earth." Marlow also criticises how the Belgians exploited the resources. He states "ivory rang in the air, was whispered, was sighed," applying a metaphor to highlight the selfish, materialistic notion of the Belgians that economic advancement was more valuable than letting the natives live under reasonable conditions. In the 1970's, European colonialism had died out but American interventionism was on the rise. Consequently, Coppola assesses the mistreatment of the Southeast Asian people by U.S. military during the Vietnam War. The most obvious example in the film is the scene where Kilgore launches an attack on...