Comparative essay heart of Darkness vs Apocalyspe Now



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The Manager of Marlow’s crew shows what happens to those who cannot adapt to the climate by clarifying what his evil morality leaves him impervious to. The manager rules because “[he] stands the climate – [he can] outlast [the rest]”. The word “climate” suggests that the manager has something more than a physical fitness – he has a moral constitution as well. His is different from that of the men coming from Europe, whose nai?? ve and civilized morality leads them to succumb to the “climate” of the Congo.

The manager is in his position because “he was never ill” (pg 18), showing how he has completely forsaken civilized morality and has adopted the ways of darkness – the jungle – which has risen him to his current position. The susceptibility of a character to disease in Heart of Darkness is related to whether or not they choose to embrace the evil and savagery of the jungle, or whether they try in vain to keep their civility and humanity. The ones who succumb to evil will not become ill, whereas those who do not will die from the sickness.

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In Apocalypse Now, Kilgore’s inhumanity is shown in a poignant scene where he appears to sympathize with a man who is literally holding his entrails in his hands by giving him water, but forgets about him the moment he hears a celebrity has landed on his camp. His madness is shown by his grossly exaggerated fascination with surfing – he orders his men to surf on a beach when there is still a fight going on, eliciting disbelief from Willard and his crew who are still sane.

Yet, Kilgore is portrayed as a successful and loved leader, it is the very madness and inhumanity that has raised him to the rank of commanding officer, much like the Manager in Heart of Darkness. Their awareness of their own invulnerability is also paralleled, as shown when Kilgore does not even duck when he hears a shell approaching him (in the scene where Willard, his crew and Kilgore all land on a battlefield beachfront), safe in the belief that he will “come out of the war without a scratch” – exactly how the manager is impervious to the jungle’s deadly diseases.

However, even the surfer Lance is repulsed by Kilgore’s attitude, and he sides with Willard in trying to avoid him and continue on with their mission. What this reveals is how undesirable it is to be around an evil person even if they are successful, and how it even a suicidal mission would be preferable to succumbing to madness despite it making one invulnerable. The way that Kurtz faces this choice between evil and death in both Apocalypse Now and Heart of Darkness is a significant similarity. It shows how Kurtz makes the morally good choice of death rather than a continued evil existence.

Kurtz in Heart of Darkness oscillates between sickness and health, representing how he is attempting to both delay his death by sinking further into evil, but also attempting to stay moral causing a descent to death. When Kurtz is healthy, he partakes with the native’s savage rituals and customs (“Mr. Kurtz lacked restraint in the gratification of his various lusts” Conrad, 53), showing how he has succumbed to the climate of the jungle. When he is sick, he is resisting the climate and is able to show the “grave, profound, vibrating [voice]” (Conrad, 55) that Marlow expected of him had his humanity and intellect been intact.

Indeed, the first piece of dialogue that Kurtz has is during one of his bouts of sickness, and he shows his intellect by seeing through the facade of the manager and divining the true purpose of his journey (“Save me! – save the ivory you mean. ” Conrad, 56). In both works, the arrival of the protagonists is what spurs Kurtz to make a decision. In the scene where Marlow confronts Kurtz in the field, Marlow stands both physically and metaphorically between Kurtz and the choice of evil and depravity. Past Marlow lies the “sorcerer …

witch man” (Conrad, 60) of the natives, a symbol of the savagery of the jungle. More profound is the use of imagery in describing the sorcerer – he has “horns – … on his head” and “strides … across a [fire’s] glow” (Conrad, 60). Quite literally, Marlow stands between Kurtz and the devil – the ultimate symbol of evil. Faced with the representation of good (Marlow) and evil, Kurtz rejects the evil knowing that in making that choice, he will die of his sickness after his long period of time with the savage natives comes to an end.

In Apocalypse Now, Kurtz is in the same situation as his counterpart was in Heart of Darkness. Being in the jungle for such a long time as driven him to madness, as depicted in the scenes showing the temples – full of severed heads and hanging bodies with blood and gore on every step. The photographer states that “No one talks to Kurtz, Kurtz talks to you”, but this is immediately contradicted when Willard and Kurtz have conversations in Kurtz’s own room. This shows the same spurring of action that the arrival of the protagonist has elicited in the colonel.

The same intellect that Willard saw when he was reading Kurtz’s dossier appears to him when conversation between the two men reveal a self awareness by Kurtz of the depravity he has sunk to. Hoping to die a “soldier’s death” (rather than a “savage’s death”), Kurtz asks Willard to kill him, which he does do. Although this request was never stated by Kurtz himself, rather it was implied in such a way that Willard was certain of the colonel’s intention, the audience still sees it as an informed choice by Kurtz rather than a decision to assassinate by Willard.

This is shown when Kurtz does not so much as flinch when he sees Willard approach him with a knife and stabs him repeatedly, because he expected and wants Willard to kill him. Thus, the movie and the novella differ in the specific point that the authors saw fit to most dramatize. In the movie, the death by assassination, or rather – assisted suicide – of Kurtz is dramatically carried out, giving the audience a memorable scene of the outcome of choosing morality over evil.

The novella dramatizes the scene where the choice is made, when Kurtz chooses to leave with Marlow rather than call for the native sorcerer – leaving the outcome of such a choice the same but much less memorable to the audience compared to the choice itself. This difference is superficial in terms of the effect on the plot and themes, but it reveals the differences in the expectations the authors have of their audience’s interests – modern filmgoers much more appreciative of a spectacle for the eyes rather than a spectacle for the imagination.

Ultimately, the Kurtz’s of both works are portrayed as heroes in their demise – having explored both sides of the choice between of evil and death they choose death rather than losing their humanity and morality. In conclusion, both Heart of Darkness and its more modern film counterpart Apocalypse Now deal heavily with the choice between Evil and Death, a philosophical idea first proposed by Socrates. The parallels between these two dissimilar yet related works lie in both the many men who surround the protagonists in the story, specific leaders among the Europeans/Americans and the quasi-villain of the stories – Kurtz.

This theme that both works follows is used to express Socrates’s opinion that death is a preferable choice to losing one’s morality, and those who decide on the reverse of weak willed and pitiful individuals. It is a profound idea, important enough that authors of two different time periods both thought it necessary to include such deliberate features of it in their work.

Works Cited Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness (Dover Thrift Editions).New York: Dover Publications, 1990. Print. Apocalypse Now Redux. Dir. Francis Ford Coppola. Perf. Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando. 1979. Paramount, 2001. Film.

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