Heart of Darkness


Daniel Tortora
Paper 4
Final Draft

Heart of Darkness, a novel by Joseph Conrad, and Apocalypse Now, a movie by Francis Ford Coppola can be compared and contrasted in many ways. By focusing on their endings and on the character of Kurtz, contrasting the meanings of the horror in each media emerges. In the novel the horror reflects Kurtz tragedy of transforming into a ruthless animal whereas in the film the horror has more of a definite meaning, reflecting the war and all the barbaric fighting that is going on.
Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, deals with the account of Marlow, a narrator of a journey up the Congo River into the heart of Africa, into the jungle, his ultimate destination. Marlow is commissioned as an ivory agent and is sent to ivory stations along the river. Marlow is told that when he arrives at the inner station he is to bring back information about Kurtz, the basis of this comparison and contrast in this paper, who is the great ivory agent, and who is said to be sick. As Marlow proceeds away to the inner station "to the heart of the mighty big river…. resembling an immense snake uncoiled, with its head in the sea, its body at rest curving afar over a vast country and its tail lost in the depths of the land" (Dorall 303), he hears rumors of Kurtz’s unusual behavior of killing the Africans. The behavior fascinates him, especially when he sees it first hand: "and there it was black, dried, sunken, with closed eyelids- a head that seemed to sleep at the top of that pole, and with the shrunken dry lips showing a narrow white line of the teeth, was smiling too, smiling continuously at some endless and jocose dream of that eternal slumber"(Conrad 57). These heads that Marlow sees are first hand evidence of Kurtz’s unusual behavior. The novel ends with Kurtz "gradually engulfing the atrocities of the other agents in his own immense horror"(Dorall 303). At his dying moment, Kurtz utters "The Horror! The Horror!’, which for the novel are words reflecting the tragedy of Kurtz, and his transformation into an animal.
Apocalypse Now is a movie that is similarly structured to the book but has many different meanings. The movie takes place during the Vietnam War. The narrator is Captain Willard, who is given a mission to locate and kill Colonel Kurtz, who is said to be in Cambodia killing the Vietcong, South Vietnamese and the Cambodians. Willard journeys up the Nung river to find Kurtz, and eventually finds and kills him. Kurtz’s words "The Horror!, The Horror!" in the film have a different meaning from the novel. Their meaning is not definite though and could only be understood by taking a deeper look at the character of Kurtz this film.
At the point when Willard, from Apocalypse Now, and Marlow from Heart of Darkness, meet up with their Kurtzes, the two media break off from their similar structure and start to develop differently. The Kurtz in Conrad’s novel is told to be "a universal genius,…the flower of European Civilization"(Conrad qtd. in LaBrasca 289). Kurtz becomes a beacon of hope for Marlow who is searching for him amid much heat, bugs, natives and immense fog. Marlow approaches Kurtz’s place of refuge, described as "the shack of the ‘universal genius’ surrounded by a crude row of posts, holding high the severed heads of ‘rebels(Africans)"(Conrad qtd. in Labrasca 290). From these words we can see that Kurtz is no ordinary man. Kurtz himself was described as "an animated image of death carved out of old ivory"(Conrad qtd. in Labrasca 290). Essentially Kurtz has succumbed to disease and starvation, and is basically being eaten alive as he nears death. He had such a greed for ivory also. Kurtz exclaims "My intended, my ivory, my station my river…"(Conrad 67). He believes that everything is his that he had control. Marlow really can’t believe that Kurtz thought that everything belonged to him. Marlow’s response "Everything belonged to him. It made me hold my breath in expectation of hearing the wilderness burst into a prodigious laughter…"(Conrad 67) gives us a sense that Marlow really believes that Kurtz has taken on this idea that everything belongs to