Francis Ford Coppola has a significant issue as he inherits the task of making a movie along the lines of Joseph Conrad’s novel “Heart of Darkness. ” He does not have any real option to recreate the setting of imperial Europe invading African land, but fortunately for Coppola, the United States recently fought a war that is very comparable in the fighting tactics element. In his film “Apocalypse Now,” Coppola does a very good job keeping his plot similar to “Heart of Darkness” despite the difference in settings. Both plots of “Heart of Darkness” and “Apocalypse Now” have the same ultimate objective of sending men to go find the man whose name is Kurtz, an ex-military officer assumed to have gone AWOL and now living amongst the natives.
The group of men travels downriver through hostile environments until they reach the post where Kurtz is supposedly living, and in both the film and the novel, they are pestered by the natives throughout the venture with everything from a fake arrow shower to attempt to scare them, to a real flurry of arrows and spears which fatally wounds one of the crew members. Also, Coppola keeps Kurtz’s character very similar to that of Conrad’s characterization in the novel. When the men finally reach him, they find him to be incredibly intellectual and sharp despite his old age. He is very in tune with his surroundings and understands his situation completely.
Along with Kurtz’s personality, Coppola also does a good job depicting his death as it happened in the novel, including his final words, “The horror, the horror,” which is him talking about all of his encounters with the natives. Although Coppola makes an exceptional effort to create “Apocalypse Now” to be as similar as possible to Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” there are some differences that are just impossible to overcome. The biggest one of those is simply the setting. Coppola truly has no way of achieving a setting where he can depict the African Congo where imperial Europe is invading to take elephant tusks in order to sell ivory. Instead, he uses the United States’ recent war with Vietnam to recreate the story. Despite the different type of natives from Africa to Vietnam, the people of America likely assume the same kind of personality of the Vietnamese that the Europeans once thought of the Africans, that they are savage people.
Another significant difference is the changing of the main character. Conrad’s character, Charles Marlow, is a lifelong sailor who has spent most of his life at sea traveling across different continents to perform trading. With no true sailor profession remaining by the 1970’s outside the navy, Coppola is forced to create a different character. He fabricates a veteran U. S. Army Captain named Benjamin Willard to head the ship through the rivers of Vietnam to retrieve Kurtz.
The final major difference between “Apocalypse Now” and “Heart of Darkness” is the crew that rides aboard the ship. In the novel, a handful of white men head the ship and they are accompanied by a significantly larger number of savage cannibals; in the film, the crew consists of just a few men that are all military personnel. Many of his changes can be solely contributed to the change in setting and time period. Francis Ford Coppola is just about as faithful to Joseph Conrad’s novel as he can possibly be.
The characterization of the major roles in the film mirror that of the ones in Conrad’s novel. Coppola even does an outstanding job casting actors that fit the exact image of what you would assume them to look and act like from the book. Coppola’s Apocalypse Now parallels Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” plot with the exception of a few minor additions in order to try to depict some of the happenings during the United States’ war in Vietnam. It is truly an incredible job by Coppola to recreate the story so well.
Judging off of his work with Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola will be thought of as one of the movie directors able to take a novel and turn it into a motion picture without butchering the story. Coppola has many elements going against him, the generation and location primarily, yet in spite of those, he is able to recreate Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” into an award winning American epic film that will be watched and remembered for an incredibly long time.
Apocalypse Now. Dir. Francis Ford Coppola.
Perf. Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Martin Sheen, Dennis Hopper, Laurence Fishburne, Sam Bottoms, Albert Hall, and Frederic Forrest. Paramount Pictures, 1979. Conrad, Joseph.
Heart of Darkness. New York: Knopf, 1993. Print.