Compare "Apocalypse Now" to Conrad's novella "Heart of Darkness". How effectively has the director captured the central themes?

Essay by Jimmy99 April 2004

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The film "Apocalypse Now", directed by Francis Coppola, is loosely based upon Joseph Conrad's novella "Heart of Darkness" in which both works share similar themes and motifs. Both are accounts of Man's journey into his self, and the discoveries to be made there. They are also about Man confronting his fears of failure, insanity, death, and cultural contamination. Symbols such as the river and the boat preside in both as do the key personas of Kurtz and Willard/ Marlow. Francis Coppola skillfully developed the visually beautiful, ground-breaking "Apocalypse Now" with the surrealistic and symbolic sequences detailing the confusion, violence, fear, and nightmarish madness of the Vietnam War.

The deterioration of the culturally accustomed man in exposure to foreign cultures and savagery play key roles in the way of portraying the human psyche. All America contributed to the making of Colonel Kurtz, just as all Europe produced Mr. Kurtz. What is reflected by the Kurtz's is the threat of loss of self, loss of centrality and the displacement of Western culture from the perceived supreme center of history.

The evil side of both Kurtzes was brought out by the fear of new cultures different from their own, and their inability to deal with this fear. This is indicated by the disconnection between the opening words of Kurtz's report "By the simple exercise of our will, we can exert a power for good practically unbounded" and the closing sentence "Exterminate all the brutes."

This fear of other cultures is emphasized by the condescending attitude of the Imperialist way. Coppola makes a point to show this with the shocked expression on Captain Willard's eyes when whilst on a navy boat armed to the teeth, one of his crew is killed by a spear thrown by a native in the bush. The Americans...