'Apocalypse Now' Essay

Apocalypse Now Term paper

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Joseph Conrad s novella Heart of Darkness and Francis Coppola s film Apocalypse Now share a number of common features that make them similar from a structural point of view and share some of the same events and many of the same characters. These similarities are not coincidental as when making his film, Coppola based it in essence on Conrad s book. Whilst the film is based on the novella there are also distinct differences between the two pieces with regards to their mood, their focus, the motivation for some characters and most notably, their endings. Contrasting the film and book and recognising the similarities and differences between the two contributes to the reader/viewer by giving them a greater understanding of the pieces On a technical level Apocalypse Now and Heart of Darkness share a significant common feature. Despite the differences in the stories, Linda Cahair writes that the narrative of each is splendidly similar. Both Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now are framestories with mediating narrators. In each the mediating narrator is simultaneously present and not present in the text. In both works, the tale proper is narrated in first person retrospect and the pattern of taletelling is remarkably similar (Cahir, 1992:182). Whilst there is this widespread understanding that both Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now share a similar narrative structure, writers such as E. N. Dorall point to minor parallels to the novella (Dorall, 1988:303) that occur throughout the film - more so towards the end, once the boat passes the bridge. Instances such as the attack on Willard s boat by Kurtz s followers as he approaches the Colonel s camp, and the scene in which the helmsman dies follow the novella almost identically. The photographer that greets Willard when he arrives at Kurtz s camp is the Russian follower of Kurtz from Conrad s book simply transposed to a different time and place, he retains the reverential view of Kurtz that his novella counterpart has and even wears the bright and strange clothes that Marlow mentions in the original. The character of Colonel Kurtz preserves many of the qualities he posses in Conrad s text. Dorall believes that the two Kurtzes, especially, often act and speak alike. Both have asked to be sent to their assignment ;both are impressively bald (surely a symbolic touch) ;both are happy with the agent sent to end their jungle existence (Dorall, 1988:304). A major difference between the novella and the film that Dorall describes is the total darkness of Apocalypse Now as opposed to the darkness and light of Heart of Darkness. In his text, Conrad uses Marlow, the accountant, and the Russian as positive forces within the heart of darkness ;Dorall also states that Conrad s positive view of the British Empire as translated through Marlow s description of it as having conquered the darkness and being a source of light now. These models of light are not found in the film ;in Coppola s film, unlike Conrad s novella, there is only darkness (Dorall, 1988:310). As previously discussed, the two Kurtz characters are alike. The likeness however end at the characters themselves as the perceptions of them and the motives for Willard and Marlow s missions to find them are totally different. In the novella, Kurtz is a well respected man by his employers who is an asset to the organisation and Marlow, is instructed by the company to find Kurtz not fearing that he might have run amok, but that he might be dead (Chabal&Joannides, 1984:191). Apocalypse Now twists this story and in the film Now Kurtz is seen as a liability to the organisation and thus Willard is ordered to kill him, not rescue him. Whilst in the book, the steamboat voyage is really of little importance it takes up a bulk of the film and the climax is really built by the many trials and tribulations that Willard and the boat crew encounter on their passage up the river. Finally the ending of the film differs from that of the novella. Firstly, the film has three different endings - 1. after killing Kurtz, Willard simply walks to the entrance of Kurtz s temple and looks out to the crowd of Kurtz s followers all staring at him, 2. after walking to the entrance of the temple, Willard boards his boat and heads down river, and 3. after boarding his boat, Willard heads down river and Kurtz s camp is shown being destroyed. None of these endings are true to the novella s ending of Marlow returning to Kurtz s intended, although previous to the Colonel s death he asks Willard to explain his actions to his family in America. Recognising the similarities and the differences associated with Conrad s Heart of Darkness and Coppola s Apocalypse Now gives the reader a better understanding of the messages that each author is wanting to convey. Firstly, the general story and narrative structures of both the film and book share similarities that make it easier to grasp the idea of the darkness that both Conrad and Coppola portray in their respective works. Yet whilst the idea of darkness may be more firmly grasped after analysing the common features and difference between the pieces, questions could also be raised by the analysis especially when the degrees of darkness are measured from both the novella and the film - Apocalypse Now being the more dark of the two. Coppola s film is set in a war, the Vietnam War to be specific, and thus is generally categorised under the war genre ;Heart of Darkness however, is a novella about colonisation and would most likely be classed as being from the adventure or history genre. These differences alone could contribute to the reader/viewer interpreting each in a different way - despite the uniformity of the structures. Therefore, it can be said that although a recognition of the common features and differences could attribute to a greater understanding of the pieces, it could also problematise some aspects of Conrad and Coppola s works. Cahair, Linda Costanzo. 1992. Narratological Parallels in Joseph Conrad s Heart of Darkness and Francis Ford Coppola s Apocalypse Now . Literature Film Quarterly 20.3: 181-187. Chabal, Patrick, and Joannides, Paul. 1984. Copping out with Coppola . Cambridge Quartely 13.3: 187-203. Conrad, Joseph. 1988. Heart of Darkness. Norton: New York. Coppola, Francis Ford. 1979. Apocalypse Now. Dorall, E.N. 1988. Conrad and Coppola: Different centres of darkness . In Heart of Darkness: A Norton Critical Edition, ed. Robert Kimbrough. New York: Norton.

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