One of the many similarities between Heart of Darkness and “Apocalypse Now” is race. Joseph Conrad and Francis Coppola both use white men as the characters that have dominance (Bradley). The white men not only dominate their respective crews, but also the peoples native to the country the white men are visiting.
The character Conrad uses, Marlow, and Coppola uses his character, Willard, both look at the natives as though white men are the civilized culture and the native people are the savage culture (Franklin). Both works also reflect the theory that “civilized” white men that go into an uncivilized land become savage and do not return to white civilization. An example of this that is in the book is Marlow’s appointment with the doctor. The doctor measures Marlow’s skull to compare its size at the present time to the size of his skull upon his return from the Congo.
The thought is that a civilized mans skull is a different size than a savage’s skull. When Marlow asks the doctor how what the results of this test have been in the past, the doctor comments that there are none because no civilized person has ever returned from the Congo. An example of this in the movie is when Willard faces his own personality of whether or not to complete his soldierly mission of killing Kurtz or to abort it. If he completes the mission he is still civil, if he does not, the Vietnam jungle has conquered him. The first soldier that is sent to kill Kurtz did not kill Kurtz, but in fact became one of his followers.
The jungle overcame the first soldier. An important similarity of the main characters in each work is that each character has a sympathy for Kurtz and when Kurtz dies, Marlow and Willard see a little of themselves in this degenerated savage white man (Harris). Perhaps the similarity of the book and movie is that we, the reader and viewer are intended to discover the darkness in our own hearts. Although there was much similarity between the two works, there are many discrepancies that make Heart of Darkness and “Apocalypse Now” dissimilar. The settings of the stories were different and written in different time periods.
Heart of Darkness, written in the late nineteenth century, was set in a wild African jungle frontier. “Apocalypse Now”, released in 1979, was set in a war torn and hostile Vietnam. This could have been Coppola’s opinion of a wrong political action and the brutality and senselessness of war (Harris). Conrad used ivory traders as his characters and the ivory trade in Coppola used of soldiers and the Vietnam War.
Another difference in the two is that the ivory traders were in the Congo of their own free will and greed. The soldiers were not there of their own free will, many were drafted into Vietnam. Character differences in the two works reflect that Willard, Coppola’s adapted character of Conrad’s Marlow is really nothing like him. Marlow was eager to meet Kurtz and perhaps learn secrets of the ivory trade in Zaire. Willard on the other hand seemed to have a death wish. Throughout the entire movie, Willard is a depressed human.
He has a soldier’s killer instinct; this is something Coppola added to his character. It is difficult to Heart of Darkness without the mention of “Apocalypse Now”. Parallels in the movie and novel tie them together as a modern version or revision of an older masterpiece. A comparison of this is Shakespeare’s play version of Romeo and Juliet written in 1595 and Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film version of the same work.
It is perplexing that the story is lifted from the pages of a book and placed in a completely different context, is written and engineered in a way that retains some of the ideas and themes that Conrad addressed in his book.