Masaryk univerzity in brno faculty of education

Download 93.87 Kb.
Size93.87 Kb.



Bachelor Thesis

Brno 2007

Ludmila Kovářová
Masaryk University

Faculty of Education

Department of English Language and Literature

Conrad’s Inferno as reflected in Coppola’s Apocalypse Now

Bachelor Thesis

Brno 2010

Supervised by: Written by:

Mgr. Jaroslav Izavčuk Ludmila Kovářová


KOVÁŘOVÁ, Ludmila. Conrad’s Inferno as reflected in Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Brno: Masaryk University, Faculty of Education, Department of English Language and Literature, 2010, 40 pages. The supervisor of the bachelor thesis is Mgr. Jaroslav Izavčuk


This bachelor thesis deals with the comparison of the image of inferno in J. Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness with the movie Apocalypse Now by director F. F. Coppola. The first chapter focuses on the features that reflect political issues of the periods in which were both works created with the reference to the main topic – inferno. Other chapters offer the analyses of novella as well as the movie in the areas of plots and main characters always regarding the common symbol of inferno which is the connecting ling between all the topics.

The results of the study based on the data stated in the main part of my bachelor thesis are mentioned at the end.


Inferno, Darkness, Evil, Heart of Darkness, Apocalypse Now, Conrad, Coppola,


Tato bakalářská práce se zabývá porovnáváním obrazu pekla v novele J. Conrada Srdce temnoty s filmem Nynější apokalypsa režiséra F. F. Coppoly. První kapitola se věnuje určování znaků, které zobrazují politických událostí v době, kdy byla díla vytvořena, s ohledem na hlavní téma této práce – peklo. Další kapitoly poskytují rozbor jak novely tak i filmu, v oblasti obsahu a hlavních postav vždy s ohledem na společný znak pekla, které je pojícím pojítkem všech témat.

V závěru práce jsou formulovány výsledky analýzy založené na informacích rozebíraných v hlavní části práce.


Peklo, Temnota, Zlo, Srdce temnoty, Nynější Apokalypsa, Conrad, Coppola


I hereby proclaim that I wrote this thesis myself and that all the outside sources of information have been cited.

I agree with the placing of this thesis in the Masaryk University Brno in the library of the Department of English Language and Literature and with the access for studying purposes.

In Brno, 7 March 2010 Ludmila Kovářová


I would like to thank my supervisor Mgr. Jaroslav Izavčuk for suggesting me the theme of my thesis and for his support, patience and help.

Then I would like to express my thanks to all the people who supported during the writing of my thesis, especially to my family.









The reason for choosing the topic Conrad’s Inferno as reflected in Apocalypse Now as my bachelor thesis lies in my own personal interest. I always wanted to know what kind of cruelties and difficulties man has to undertake so that the darkness settles in his/her soul. The topic of this thesis offered me a detection of the answer.

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness has often been interpreted as a parallel to Dante’s Inferno. This similarity can be discovered by the reference to the main aim of both works-the description of a heroic pilgrimage into the centre of darkness and its effect on a man who undertakes it.

On the other hand, Apocalypse Now has been very often regarded as rarely based on the Conrad’s novella. However, inferno, darkness or evil, the synonyms of the phenomena I am looking for when comparing these two works, creates the bridge that proves their resemblance. My attempt is to find the segments in which these similarities are realised.

The settings of Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now utterly differ from each other. Yet I decided to devote the first chapter to the features that reflect political issues of the period the novella and the movie were created in. The political issues, however, are viewed with a reference to the main topic of my thesis-inferno, as well as the other chapters concerning the comparison of the plots and the main characters.


Although both the book and the movie were written in two different periods of time and reflect two different political situations the features of their similarity can be discovered. The terrifying and inhuman treating of African natives/ Vietnamese that point out the loose of any ethical values of a modern society is the connecting link between these two works.

2.1 Heart of Darkness

It is universally acknowledge that Heart of Darkness was written in purpose to criticise the colonialism (Frances 41). The roots of this accusation can be found firstly by reference to Conrad’s own life and secondly in the initial thirteen paragraphs of the book before Marlow begins his own tale. Here the theme of civilization is explicitly introduced by mentioning the times when Thames “had borne all the ships whose names are like jewels flashing in the night of time,” (p. 4) and when England itself had been “one of the dark places on the earth ... nineteen hundred years ago – the other day.” (p. 5)

The glim of civilization itself, Marlow clarifies like “a running blaze on a plain, like a flash of lightning in the clouds. We live in the flicker – may it last as long as the old earth keeps rolling! But darkness was here yesterday.” (p. 5) However, the implication of corruption inherited in the act of colonization is explicitly described in Marlow’s analysis of the Roman colonization of ancient Britain:

It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind – as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness. The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion of slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. (p.7)

Another Conrad’s way of illustrating the colonial issue is due to irony. (Singh 42) The direct attack can be clarified by structures such as the “noble cause” (p. 9), the “jolly pioneers of progress” (p.10) or the “improved specimen” (p. 37). Moreover in Marlow’s description of Eldorado Exploring Expedition he unites the satirical attack with the direct attack to increase the glorification of its aims:

This devoted band called itself the Eldorado Exploring Expedition and I believe they were sworn to secrecy. Their talk, however, was the talk of sordid buccaneers: it was reckless without hardihood, greedy without audacity, and cruel without courage; there was not an atom of foresight or of serious intention in the whole batch of them, and they did not seem aware these things are wanted for the work of the world. To tear treasure out of the bowels of the land was their desire, with no more moral purpose at the back of it than there is in burglars breaking into a safe... (p. 31)

It is necessary to stress metaphor which is most important type of comment used in Heart of Darkness to condemn colonialism. (Singh 42) Primarily it is the title itself. The explanation of its metaphorical connotation can be broad. In a geographic point of view it may indicate the location of Belgian Congo and the colour of its inhabitants. Whereas in colonial terms it might present “the evil practices of the colonizers of the Congo, their sordid exploration of the natives, and suggests that the real darkness is not in Africans but in all white who countenance and engage in colonialistic enterprise.” (Singh 42) To stress the dehumanizing impact of colonialism rule on the African natives, Conrad titles them as “shades” (p. 17), shadows (p. 17) and “bundles of acute angles” (p. 18). Moreover when Marlow lands on the coast he mentions a terrible sight of people who have been dehumanised by colonialism:

There were dying slowly – it was very clear. They were not enemies, they were not criminals, they were nothing earthly now – nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation, lying confusedly in the greenish gloom. Brought from all the recesses of the coast in all the legality of time contracts, lost in uncongenial surroundings, fed on unfamiliar food, they sickened, became inefficient, and were then allowed to crawl away and rest. (p. 17)

The effect of empire-building, its character and the ethnography of Congo are the features that unite these two interpretations of the metaphor.

Another metaphorical expression that deals with a criticism of “the inevitable tendency of expanding civilization itself” (Benson 212) is described as a devil in Marlow’s words when he arrives at the first station: “But as I stood on this hillside, I foresaw that in the blinding sunshine of that land I would become acquainted with a flabby, pretending, weak-eyed devil of a rapacious and pitiless folly” (p. 17)

Even though in Heart of Darkness there can be found more levels of meaning, the political and social injustices is one of them. The natives are robbed of their living; they are treated worst than animals, without any respect to their dignity or to the life itself. The morality and humanism disappeared when the modern society had been abandoned. By discovering these cruelties, Marlow detects the terror of hell.

2.1.1 Marlow’s attitude towards colonialism

Despite all mentioned critics could it be universally claimed that Marlow’s approach in Heart of Darkness is anti-colonialist and anti-depraved? Even though he dislikes the way Africans are treated and is disgusted by consequences of colonialism, he is still condemned to have a mentality of colonizer until he finds a desire to understand and value other people’s culture. An instance of this approach may be firstly seen in the usage of the word “them” when speaking about blacks: “The man seemed young-almost a boy-but you know with them it’s hard to tell” (p. 17-18). By the use of this term he separates himself from people suffering in the tragedy of their fate.

Another example that captures the problem mentioned above can be seen in the situation when Marlow is amazed by the attitude of a crew of cannibals, travelling with him. He cannot figure out “why in the name of all the gnawing devils of hunger” (p.42) they didn’t eat human flesh on board of the ship. This suggests that he doesn’t consider them human. Furthermore they are rated as a species of superior hyena:”these chaps ... had no earthly reason for any kind of scruple. Restraint! I would just as soon have expected restraint from a hyena prowling amongst the corpses of a battlefield.” (p. 43)

Marlow’s ignorance of the habits of cannibals and his superior feelings to the people who are involved in the ceremonial rites is presented by this extract:

We were cut off from the comprehension of our surroundings; we glided past like phantoms, wondering and secretly appalled, as sane men would be before an enthusiastic outbreak in a madhouse... The earth seemed unearthly. We were accustomed to look upon the shackled form of a conquered monster, but there – there you could look at a thing monstrous and free. It was unearthly, and the men were – No, they were not inhuman. Well, you know, that was the worst of it–this suspicion of their not being inhuman. It would come slowly to one. They howled and leaped, and spun, and made horrid faces, but what trilled you was just the thought of their humanity – like yours – the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar. Ugly. Yes, it was ugly enough; but if you were man enough you would admit to yourself that there was in you just the faintest trace of a response to the terrible frankness of that noise, a dim suspicion of there being a meaning in it which you–you so remote from the night of first ages – could comprehend. (p. 36-37)

It can be seen that Marlow considers these men human, but he is uncomfortable and horrified with their madness behaviour. What makes him so dismissive against the savages and their rituals? Is it his ignorance, the fear there are some powers of darkness hidden in their performing, or both? There can be hardly seen a clear answer but considering his colonial or anti-colonial attitude, he would rather stay on a ship “to mess about with white-lead and strips of woollen blanket helping to put bandages on those leaky steam-pipes,” (p. 37) than that “go ashore for a howl and a dance.” (p. 37) By turning to work, Marlow is turning to a product of civilization.

From some of the examples mentioned above it can be reckoned that Marlow is not really the indisputable anti-colonist. He doesn’t show concern about another way of life, about another culture or society. For Marlow there is no difference between tribal customs and evil practices.

2.2 Apocalypse Now

In spite of the claim that Coppola doesn’t include any political reflections in his movies (Fikejz 8), Apocalypse Now is viewed as the interpretation of the Vietnam War. It is also important to mention that this movie “seeks less to meditate on the war and more to plunge us as viscerally into it as any movie possibly can.” (Dempsey 1)

Viewers may witness this attitude from the opening sequence of the movie where the cruel and destructive images of the war in Vietnam are given. The long-lasting picture of a jungle of palm trees gives a feeling that something terrific is going to happen. The sound of the war chopper blades and the mind-blowing, sorrowful words of the soundtrack from The End: “This is the end...” (Jim Morris, The Doors) are the last stages before napalm is dropped and swallows up the jungle. (Dirks 1)

The opening, very impressive image turns up to be part of the memories of Army Captain Benjamin Willard who expresses his broken soul after the horrific experience he has undergone:

Saigon. Shit! I’m still only in Saigon. Every time I think I’m gonna wake up back in the jungle. When I was home after my first tour, it was worse. I’d wake up and there’d be nothing. I hardly said a word to my wife, until I said ‘yes’ to a divorce. When I was here, I wanted to be there. When I was there, all I could think of was getting back into the jungle. I’m here a week now. I’m waiting for a mission – getting softer. Every minute I stay in this room, I get weaker. And every minute Charlie¹ squats in the bush, he gets stronger. Each time I looked around, the walls moved in a little tighter. (0:04:10)

There are three other major sequences which can be found in the first half of the movie and depict the brutality, dreadfulness and insanity of the Vietnam War: encounter between Willard and lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore, the show with “Playboy Bunnies” and the endless battle of the Do Lung Bridge.

Before meeting Colonel Kilgore, Willard is given a portrait of a damaging attack and bloodied civilians straight after the Kilgore’s commando assault. Moreover, he witnesses the TV crew standing in the middle of this madness making footage for the evenings US news, shouting: “Don’t look at the camera! Just go by like you’re fighting. Like you’re fighting. Don’t look at the camera! This is for television. Just go through, go through.” (0:24:30) This absurdity is crowned by the announcement on a loudspeaker to the horrified Vietnamese: “We are here to help you...” (0:27:30) Into the relentless struggle lands Colonel Kilgore with his eccentric appearance (black hat, sunglasses and a yellow dickey) that goes in hand with the bizarre and war-loving temper. Not only does he place death cards over the civilians killed bodies, but also the obsession of surfing that influences all his commands are some of the features that point to an American military model.

The instance of his senseless missions can be seen in the situation when he orders a massive air attack on a village since the surfing is fantastic there. In this section the viewer may witnesses one of the most impressive and in the same time terrifying scene of the movie: the armada of coppers approaching an innocent, unsuspicious Vietnamese village, with Richard Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries music accompaniment. The devastating attack is the example of a marked war impact on guiltless and uninformed people. Children are dying next to adults without any reason. Moreover, when a resistance from the Vietnamese is shown, Kilgore comments on them: “The f--king savages! Don’t these people ever give up?” The Kilgore’s attitude toward them points out on the total lack of respect for a human dignity. The assassination of all those people in order to use their beach for surfing is a proof of an absolute depravity of any moral values.

Moreover, not having enough, Kilgore orders an additional napalm air strike on the tree line along the surfing beach, as to make it safer from sniper fire. He smells the napalm and speaks about the mission he has gone through:

You smell that? Do you smell that? ...Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of napalm in the morning. You know, one time we had a hill bombed, for twelve hours. When it was all over I walked up. We didn’t find one of’em, not one stinkin’ dink body. The smell, you know, that gasoline smell, the whole hill. Smelled like victory. Some day, this war’s gonna end.

This talk about the senseless murder as a glorification of the smell of napalm only proves the darkness of his soul. Kilgore’s values have changed his behaviour into something cruel and brutal that can be hardly considered human. What made him do so? The cruelties of war, the power he was given or any hidden psychological illness? Was there a moment in his life that has changed him into the appearance he can be seen now? If there was, it can scarcely be found. But the obvious thing is that his acting is not the one of a common person.

The second example that describes the madness of the war captures the situation of the arrival at an isolated US station. Capitan Willard and his crow become witnesses of the USO show in which three Playboy women arrive via helicopter to entertain the troops at the station. The three girls in their dresses exemplify a cavalry officer, a white double-holstered cowboy and an Indian squaw. (Dirks 3) After a while the troops turn to the uncontrollable mob that burst upon the stage. Therefore the girls and their manager have to be evacuated. Before they fly away the manager displays a V-sign (Victory). “His departure is an impersonation of Vietnam War-era President Nixon’s last farewell, before he boarded a helicopter” (Dirks 3)

The image of uncontrolled mob rampaging about the Playboy women highlights the deform values and behaviour of American soldiers. Willard compares the US troops with the Viet Cong by giving a comment on the debacle of the show: “Charlie didn’t get much USO. He was dug in too deep or moving too fast. His idea of great R and R was cold rice and a little rat meat. He had two ways home: death or victory.” He goes further and uses sarcastic remarks about the war and its leaders: “No one but Kurtz put a weed up Command’s ass. The war was being run by a bunch of four star clowns who were gonna end up giving the whole circus away.” By this statement he pictures his attitude towards the catastrophic direction of the war since these men and their leaders are the representatives of the US military troops.

The idea of a ruined army is confirmed and developed in the third sequence of the movie in which Willard’s crew observe the night battle for the Do Long Bridge. During the search for commanding officers, Willard is given a view of soldiers jumping into the water with their suitcases urging to be taken home. “You’re in the asshole of the world, Captain,” classifies the situation one of the soldiers. Willard disgust is fulfilled when finding the reason for building the bridge: “We build it every night. Charlie blows it right back up again. Just so the generals can say the road’s open.” The situation points out to the futility of the fight. Soldiers are sacrificing their lives merely so the generals can say the bridge is open. Without any commanding officers they are in the middle of the terrific fight because of no rational reason. Another example of war insanity.

These examples mentioned above coincide with Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in one main aspect: both of them illustrate the places in which hell descends into the world. Could it be inhuman treating of African natives or senseless war commands that bring death and suffer with themselves, everything is built on the same base – lack of morality that turns to a world without any rules and values.


According to Eleanor Coppola, Francis Coppola’s wife, Apocalypse Now is “loosely based on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness [in the meaning that] the period, settings, and circumstances of the film are totally different from those of the novella.”(Galloway 1) This is not exactly truth, however. Even though the similarities might not be recognized for the first time, passages referring to the original text appear after a deeper examination. Even if the features of similarity concern only the reflection of Inferno in the work of Francis Coppola, the connection is still visible.

3.1 The initial sections of the stories

When speaking about the first sections of the stories, very few resemblances can be noticed. Considering their purposes, the similarities become more evident, though. On initial several pages of the novella an unknown narrator gives a reader not even a description of the setting, but also an external characterisation of the main character-Marlow. The same function can be realised in the movie when watching the hotel room scene. No narrator’s description is not needed since the situation speaks for itself. Willard’s drunken dance finished by smashing the mirror presents his broken soul and symbolical destruction of his own image.

When Marlow and Willard start to tell their stories, they use the similar expressions. Marlow considers the place he has been sent in to be “a blank space of delightful mystery... it had become a place of darkness.”(p.8) In another place Marlow notes that meeting Kurtz “was the farthest point of navigation and the culminating point of my experience.”(p.7)

Similarly, Willard’s statement when speaking about the mission he has been offered expresses the same idea:

I was going to the worst place in the world, and I didn’t even know it yet. Weeks away and hundreds of miles up a river that snaked through the war like a main circuit cable plugged straight into Kurtz. It was no accident that I got to be the caretaker of Colonel Walter E. Kurtz’s memory; any more than being back in Saigon was an accident. There is no way to tell his story without telling my own. And if his story is really a confession, then so is mine. (0:09:10)

Although Coppola doesn’t use the exact Marlow’s expression, the resemblance in the meaning can be clearly noticeable from these instances. Both Marlow and Willard consider the place dark and mysterious in which the meeting with Colonel Kurtz become a significant experience. So significant that it has influenced their further life.

3.2 Before the mission starts

Continuing in the plots, both Marlow and Willard are given a mission. Even though these two parts considerably differ from each other, the hidden warning, that the journey has a remarkable effect on a person who undertakes it, is notable from both works. In Heart of Darkness this claim can be noticed form the part Marlow sees the Company’s doctor who measures his skull. “‘I always ask leave, in the interests of science, to measure the crania of those going out there,’ he said. ‘And when they come back too?’ I asked. ‘Oh, I never see them,’ he remarked; ‘and, moreover, the changes take place inside, you know.’” (p. 11)

With the same sense Willard is given a prove of Kurtz’s insanity via the tape recording of his voice.

I watched a snail crawl along the edge of a straight razor. That’s my dream, it’s my nightmare. Crawling, slipping along the edge of a straight razor and surviving... But we must kill them, we must incinerate them, pig after pig, cow after cow, village after village, army after army, and they call me an assassin. What do you call it when the assassins accuse assassin? The lie. They lie and we have to be merciful for those who lie, for those nabobs. I hate them. I do hate them. (0:12:20)

After listening to the tape General R. Corman, one of the officers questioning Willard, draws the attention to the danger of becoming senseless “out there”. By this statement he suggests that the cause of the illness is closely connected with that horrible place:

But out there with these natives it must be a temptation to be God. Because there’s a conflict in every human heart between the rational and irrational, between good and evil. And good does not always triumph. Sometimes the Dark Side overcomes what Lincoln called ‘the better angels of our nature.’ Therein, man has got a breaking point. You and I have. Walter Kurtz has reached his. And very obviously, he has gone insane. (0:15:30)

General Corman does not only utter the warning, he also provides a judgement of human’s suggestibility and vulnerability. Moreover, proves that even a strong and confirmed character can be frangible when undergoes a horror of hell.

After these parts Marlow sets out for Africa and Willard is given a boat with the crew to fulfil the mission.

3.3 Kurtz’s exceptionality

Becoming a witness of the natives who are cruelly treated and dying in the inhuman conditions, Marlow arrives at the station and meets Company’s chief accountant. He happens to be the first one mentioning Mr. Kurtz for the first time. On Marlow’s asking who Mr. Kurtz is, he is given a description of a “first class agent” and a “remarkable person” (p. 19). These attributes express Mr. Kurtz before his leaving the civilization, though. What happened to this “remarkable person” that darkness settled down in his soul?

The parallel question appears in the mind of the viewer of Apocalypse Now when the description of Colonel Kurtz’s character is given. In contrast to the book, Willard knows about Kurtz from the beginning due to the nature of his mission, a similar description of his exceptionality is provided when he studies the dossier materials:

I couldn’t believe they wanted this man dead. Third generation West Point, top of his class. Korea, Airborne. About a thousand decorations... he had an impressive career, maybe too impressive, I mean Perfect. He was being groomed for one of the top slots in the corporation: General, Chief of Staff, anything. (0:21:30)

When listening to the judgements the same questions appear. How could this man with so impressive career and uncountable experiences become mentally ill? What kind of terrible and painful incidents he had to observe that all the moral and human principles were denied in his mind? Maybe it was the whole society that pushed him too far, maybe the desire for being God or the lack of strong character. This question cannot be explicitly answered. The answer can be only assumed.

3.4 Before meeting Kurtz

From this sequence of the book and movie the plots divide from each other for a long time. Despite this fact little similarities that connect the stories can be found. But concerning the model of inferno and its reflection in Apocalypse Now these relations are not so clear since both works refer to it separately by its own examples which are not significantly connected. Therefore a summary of both plots with the separate reflection to this main connecting phenomenon is given below. The two plots draw together again in the parallel scene when the main heroes and their crew converge at the point of Kurtz’s base. A thick fog appears and passengers of Marlow’s as well as Willard’s boat are attacked by a rain of arrows during which the helmsmen of the both boats are killed by a spear.

Joseph Conrad continues his story by Marlow leaving the station with a caravan. Later he arrives at the Central station when discovers that his steamer had sunk. It takes him two months until the boat sets off. During this period of time he discovers more facts about Kurtz and his journey down the river:

I seemed to see Kurtz for the first time. It was a distinct glimpse: the dugout, four paddling savages, and the lone white man turning his back suddenly on the headquarters, on relief, on thoughts of home-perhaps; setting his face towards the depths of the wilderness, towards his empty and desolate station. (p. 32)

Travelling on Kurtz’s marks, Marlow provides reader a description of the river, its surrounding or rituals of the native people. Moreover, the description includes some characteristics of inferno which encloses them.

...everything belonged to him. It made me hold my breath in expectation of hearing the wilderness burst into a prodigious peal of laughter to him-but that was a trifle. The thing was to know what he belonged to, how many powers of darkness claimed him for their own. (p. 49)

This extract illustrates how powerful man - or demon - Kurtz is. Even when the ship is attacked by the natives the aim of this act is not to kill all the passengers of the steamer. The real purpose is to prevent Kurtz from being taken away from them.

With a reference to Apocalypse Now, Willard’s journey before meeting Kurtz contains four main scenes. The first one is the encounter with a surfing Colonel Kilgore connected with the air cavalry attack of the Tin Din Drop village. This terrible experience Willard assesses:”If that’s how Kilgore fought the war, I began to wonder what they really had against Kurtz. It wasn’t just insanity and murder. There was enough of that to go around for everyone.” (0:50:40) The scene of Playboy bunnies is the second one in which Willard confronts with an example of American values brought to an alien world. The Do Long Bridge sequence is the next one followed by a meal at an old French plantation. In this part Willard meats blue-eyed French widow who uncovers his soul: “There are two of you. Don’t you see? One that kills and one that loves.” (2:14:00) This judgement suggests Willard’s disunity. She sees him as a man having both evil and god-like qualities.

3.5 The arrival at Kurtz’s base

The following parts of the story are very similar. The meeting with Photojournalist, which is directly based on the “Harlequin’s” utterance in Heart of Darkness, plays a significant part before both the main characters encounter Mr. Kurtz. When asked about Mr. Kurtz both of them react almost identically:”You don’t talk with that man-you listen to him” (p. 54), “‘I tell you,’ he cried, ‘this man has enlarged my mind.’” (p. 55), “’We talked of everything,’ he said... ‘Of love too.’ ‘Ah, he talked to you of love!’ I said, much amused. ‘It isn’t what you think,’ he cried, almost passionately. ‘It was in general. He made me see things-things.’” (p. 56)

In Apocalypse Now the photojournalist speaks about Kurtz:

You don’t talk to the Colonel, well, you listen to him. The man’s enlarged my mind. He’s a poet-warrior in the classic sense...I’m a little man. He’s a great man. I should have been a pair of ragged claws, scuttling across floors of silent seas. I mean...He can be terrible and he can be mean and he can be right. He’s fighting the war. He’s a great man. (02:24:40)

Both of them mention their affection to Kurtz despite the fact that he wanted to kill them at a certain point. Moreover, Kurtz’s ambivalence is proved by the icon of the skulls on poles:

These round knobs were not ornamental but symbolic; they were expressive and puzzling, striking and disturbing-food for thought and also for vultures if there had been any looking down from the sky... They would have been even more impressive, hose heads on the stakes, it their faces had not been turned to the house. Only one, the first I had made out, was facing my way. (p. 58)

The comparison with Apocalypse Now statement: “The heads. You’re lookin’ at the heads. Eh, uh-sometimes he goes too far, you know, and he’s the first one to admit it.” (02:27:10)

These examples mentioned above give the instance of Kurtz’s riven personality. How could man speak about love, become an admired icon for his listeners and in the same time become a cannibal without any barriers?

When Kurtz appears in person in Heart of Darkness Marlow sees him as a figure in the distance and gets to talk to him later on. Whereas Willard is confronted with Kurtz immediately after his capture. After several questions about Willard’s background, Kurtz asks: “Are my methods unsound?” By this question Kurtz refers to the horror and madness of the war Willard has witnessed during his journey up the river. “I don’t see any method at all, sir,” Willard replies. (02:34:40) The problem of the Willard’s statement is that he seems unmoved by his experience. This declaration is very similar to the one of the Manager’s judgement of Kurtz: “‘but look how precarious the position is-and why? Because the method is unsound.’ ‘Do you,’ said I, looking at the shore, ‘call it “unsound method”?’ ‘Without doubt,’ he exclaimed hotly. ‘Don’t you’ ... ‘No method at all,’ I murmured after a while.” (p. 63)

In comparison with the horror a reader or a viewer have observed, could it be claimed that Kurtz’s methods are “unsound”? Isn’t it the whole society with its hypocrisy and failure of humanism that is “unsound”? Both the works denotes the message that not only the jungle, but the whole world is fulfilled with darkness.

3.5.1 Kurtz’s last words

When speaking about Heart of Darkness, Kurtz’s last words “The horror! The horror!” (p. 71) have many interpretations. Marlow firstly considers his last cry as a speech of “the remarkable man who had pronounced a judgement upon the adventures of his soul on this earth.” (p. 71) After his own near death, however, Marlow finds that Kurtz “had something to say. He said it. Since I had peeped over the edge of myself, I understand better the meaning of his stare that could not see the flame of the candle, but was wide enough to hearts that beat in the darkness.” (p. 72) Finally, Marlow experiences that the words he heard are more than an understanding of the depths of Kurtz’s own evil. It is an insight into every human’s soul in which the darkness is hidden. (Thale 179)

According to George E. Montag, another interpretation of Kurtz’s last cry utters the horror he experienced and which he attributes to the European society and human nature. (93) To him the universe may seem no more that the jungle he lived in: the violent chaos of blind power without purpose. (Martin 176)

Similarly, the scene of Apocalypse Now in Which Willard kills Kurtz has many interpretations. However, the meaning of horror may be easier to determine, since it is the theme of Kurtz’s speech:

I’ve seen horrors, horrors that you’ve seen. But you have no right to call me a murderer. You have a right to kill me-you have a right to do that-but you have no right to judge me... It’s impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror. Horror has a face, and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not, then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies. (2:51:00)

His speech suggests the idea that man has to become one with horror so as to win the war.

In another part of the movie different interpretation of the horror as an evil and depravedness in the human soul is given: “We train young men to drop fire on people but their commanders won’t allow them to write ‘f--k’ on their airplanes because it’s obscene.” (2:38:00)

It should be noted that concerning the sequence of Kurtz’s last word, Heart of Darkness as well as Apocalypse Now have more than one interpretation. Even though the similarities are not evident as such, the horror and evil appearing in human soul as well as in the society is the connection between both works which may be discovered after a deeper examination.


There are two pairs of the main characters that are worth of examining. Both of them provide similarities and differences with regard to their attributes. This analysis, however, focuses on the discovery of the nature of darkness hidden in their soul.

4.1 Marlow and Captain Willard

Marlow as well as Willard may be regarded as narrators only, providing a specific point of view about the horrors and madness they witness. This is not the only purpose of those characters, though. Their journey is assessed as a spiritual voyage into themselves, a voyage of self-discovery in the darkness of inferno. (Guerard 169) Do they really discover themselves? If yes, what does the discovery mean for their personality?

Marlow is a thirty-two years old man who has always lived at sea and is fulfilling his childish dream: to explore the “blank places” (p. 8) on the map of world. Moreover, the first impression reader gets from his description is that he is a “Buddha preaching in European clothes.” (p. 6) In contrast Willard is presented as a downfallen, divorced army captain who desperately waits for the mission. He doesn’t speak about his childish dreams nor he does he speak about his past. According to the first impression Marlow and Willard seem to have little in common.

However, similarities concerning their characters are revealed by the experiences on the journey they both undergo, the journey into the unconsciousness and darkness of an entity within the self. With this in mind, it is fascinating to observe the changes they go through. As Marlow and Willard progress up the river, they experience the same horrors that Kurtz had experienced and undergo the same changes as he did. Yet, when they reach the end, they both stop one step before turning into Kurtz, before turning into evil. Marlow makes the comparison explicit:

True, he had made that last stride, ha had stepped over the edge, while I had been permitted to draw back my hesitating foot. And perhaps in this is the whole difference; perhaps all the wisdom, and all truth, and all society, are just compressed into that inappreciable moment of time in which we step over the threshold of the invisible. Perhaps! (p. 72)

The same conclusion can be viewed in Apocalypse Now provided by visual image. After Willard had killed Kurtz, he slowly walks through the crowd of Colonel’s Vietnamese followers. They offer him to take up Kurtz’s position; nevertheless Willard refuses and starts for the journey back to the world where nothing is going to be the same.

The question is what made Kurtz “step over the edge” that Marlow and Willard were anxious about? The darkness was there, in their beings, yet it doesn’t swallow them. Why? Is it because of their stronger characters, moral values or just because they didn’t undergo so many cruelties and dreadfulness as Kurtz did? Both of them adored him, nevertheless none of them wanted to experience the same faith. They finally turn from inferno into the society and look for their own destiny.

But still, meeting with Kurtz’s personality left a remarkable effect on Marlow as well as on Willard. There is a note in the book which indicates that what had Marlow discovered in the jungle has influenced his understanding of the world.

I found myself back in the sepulchral city resenting the sight of people hurrying through the streets to filch a little money from each other, to devour their infamous cookery, to gulp their unwholesome beer, to dream their insignificant dreams. They trespassed upon my thoughts. They were intruders whose knowledge of life was to me an irritating pretence, because I felt so sure they could not possibly know the things I knew. (p. 72)

By the characters of Marlow and Willard the reader or the audience is invited to contemplate not just the physical experience of the journey but especially their psychological metamorphosis evoked by inferno they had to undertake.

4.2 Kurtz and Colonel Kurtz

The character of Kurtz stands in the centre of both narrations. His function is in both works the same – to demonstrate the changes formed in a human mind in an unknown environment. Both Kurtz and Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando) undertakes the transformation from “universal genius” (p. 73) to an evil chief. As a result they are presented as a symbol of the power that become ivory and brings the inferno on the earth.

But what did Kurtz do that his mind was covered with darkness which closed him in hell forever? Joseph Conrad doesn’t offer an explicit answer. His change is attributed to cannibalism to which he sinks. Even for Marlow cannibalism is an aspect of savagery. Yet it is not said that cannibalism means ivory. The full horror of Kurtz’s transformation into evil lies in his allowance of human sacrifices that were offered to him. (McLauchlam 14) By this statement Kurtz raises himself into God.

The similar image is seen in the movie where the transformation of Kurtz’s humanity into evil is more visible. Kurtz himself speaks about the turning point in his life that came like a “diamond bullet right through [his] forehead.”

We’d left the camp after we had inoculated the children for polio, and this old man came running after us and he was crying. He couldn’t say. We went back there, and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile, a pile of little arms, and I remember, I...I cried, I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. And I want to remember it. I never want to forget it. I never want to forget. And then I realized […] my god, the genius of that. The genius. The will to do that. Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure! And then I realized they were stronger than me because they could stand it. These were not monsters. These were men – trained cadres. [...] You have to have men who are moral and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill – without feeling, without passion, without judgement – without judgement. Because it’s judgement that defeats us. (2:52:00)

This terrible story provides the picture of inferno Kurtz had to undertake and which didn’t leave him untouched. Yes, untouched, but in the wrong way. Man cannot behave and live without judgement between good and evil even if the border between those two is very frangible. When the border is abandoned the ethic rules as well as the humanism are denied.

By these examples mentioned above the similarity between these two main characters may be seen. They both symbolize the inferno characterized by the lack of moral values, human principles and judgement; the inferno that can be hidden in each person, which can gain the control of human soul and destroy the whole human being.


USO – United Service Organization = the organization that provide moral and recreational services to members of the U. S. Military

“Charlie” - The Viet Cong in military slang was called “Charlie“ or “Victor Charlie“

R and R – military slang for rest and relaxation


The aim of my thesis was to analyse the picture of inferno in the work of the novella by Joseph Conrad and its reflection in the film by Francis Ford Coppola. The analysis dealt concretely with the aspect of inferno as seen in the novella and its reflection in the movie. Each of the works is very specific and depicts two different periods of time. Their specification lies in the dissimilar but unique description of the same topic – a tale about darkness in human nature.

In each case I have tried to supply the sufficient number of apposite examples which would have proved the similarity in ideas of both works when considering the aspect of hell. As a result I confirmed the idea mentioned in the introduction that concerning a feature of inferno the movie is based on Joseph Conrad’s novella in many sequences.

At the same time I tried to approach the answers to the questions about inferno, its settlement in human soul as well as its effect on human being. The answers, however, may not be always easy to trace. As well as the answer to the questions concerning human soul, its suggestibility or immunity from darkness cannot be always single-valued as the judgement between good and evil can neither be.

What seems to be certain is that regardless of all good attributes man can have, the hell, experienced by a person, may swallow up even the last drop of rationality and re-create it into the darkness which the light will never burst though. I consider this idea to be the central message of both works.

Concerning the images of inferno I have found two main sequences in which these pictures are similar. The first one depicts the inhuman treatment of the black people who are considered less than animals. The picture of men dying in the shadow of the tree, robbed of their souls provides the unforgettable illustration of inferno. The comparable part to this image in the novella may be Kilgore’s treatment of Vietnamese people.

The second memorable portrait of inferno is offered to the audience of Apocalypse Now in the sequence when Willard reaches Kurtz’s base. The dead people on the trees, the human skulls on the stairs or the lump of killed people gives the image of hell. Similar but not so vivid image of hell can be perceived when reading about cannibals’ rites and skulls on the posts. When comparing these two parts it is worth to admit that the film predicates about the hell more authentically since the images are overwhelming in contrast to the novella in which the description is not so detailed.


Apocalypse Now Redux. Dir. Coppola, Francis F. Perf. Marion Brando, Robert Duvall, and Martin Sheen. Zoetrope Corporation, 2000. DVD.

Benson, Donald R. “Heart of Darkness: The Grounds of Civilization in an Alien Universe.” Heart of Darkness: an Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Sources, Criticism. Ed. Robert Kimbrough. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, INC, 1971. 212. Print

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness: an authoritative text, backgrounds and sources, criticism. Ed. Robert Kimbrough. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, INC, 1971. Print

Dempsey, Michael. “Apocalypse Now.” Sight and Sound, Vol. 40, No. 1, Winter (1979-80) Bookrags. Web. 20 Mach 2010.

Dirks, Tim. “Apocalypse Now (Redux) (1979) (2001).“ filmsite, n. d. Web. 25 March 2010.

Fikejz, Miloš. Francis Coppola. Praha:Čs. filmový ústav, 1988. Print.

Galloway, Patrick. “Heart of Darkness & Apocalypse Now: A comparative analysis of novella and film” 1996. Web. 20 March 2010

Gibaldi, Joseph, and Achtert Walter S. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 1984. Print

Guerard, Albert J. “The Journey Within.” Heart of Darkness: an Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Sources, Criticism. Ed. Robert Kimbrough. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, INC, 1971. Print

Martin, David M. “The Diabolic Kurtz: The Dual Nature of His Satanism in Heart of Darkness.Conradiana, Vol. VII, No. 2, (1975). Print

McLauchlan, Juliet. “The “Value” and “Significance” of Heart of Darkness.” Conradiana, Vol. XV, No. 1, (1983). Print

Montag, George E. “Marlow Tells the Truth: the Nature of Evil in Heart of Darkness.Conradiana, Vol. VIII, No. 2, (1976). Print

Sing, Frances B. “The Colonialistic Bias of Heart of Darkness.” Conradiana, Vol. VI, No. 1, (1978). Print

Thale, Jerome. “Marlow’s Quest.” Heart of Darkness: an Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Sources, Criticism. Ed. Robert Kimbrough. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, INC, 1971. Print

Yarrison, Betsy C. “The Symbolism of Literary Allusion in Heart of Darkness.Conradiana, Vol. VII, No. 2, (1975). Print

Download 93.87 Kb.

Share with your friends:

The database is protected by copyright © 2022
send message

    Main page