Novella to Film Analysis: Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now
Apocalypse Now is known as the most famous adaptation of the novel Heart of Darkness. As an adaptation art work, the movie changed the novel in some way. However, the soul of ‘darkness’ remains both in the novel and movie.
The strongest similarity between the novel and the movie is the plot structure. In a straight and open plot, both works are started with a mission to accomplish through a hairy journey of the main character to find the so-called ‘evil’ character. The journey physically ended when the main character (as well as the narrator) met the so-called ‘evil’ character, but at the same time continued in a more psychological way –in which the character had to deal more with his inner thought and standard of morality. Both of the works got the climax when the so-called ‘evil’ character died, and the story ended with the way go home of the narrator. The novel and the movie gives a free space for the reader and viewer to interpret whether there is finally a ideological change inside the main character; thus I conclude them both as an open plot.
As an adaptation, Apocalypse Now has a quite big difference in the way the director change the setting from Congo, Africa (in the Heart of Darkness) to Vietnam and Cambodia. In term of time setting, both of the movies got the tense of ‘conflict area’ in the era of European explorer’s colonialism (Heart of Darkness) and American military invasion during the height of Vietnam War (Apocalypse Now).
Depicting the gloomy atmosphere, the novel uses words of the narrator (Marlow) while the movie employs the setting of atmosphere through cinematographic technology such as lighting, camera angel, sound effect, and framing. Using this high technology, I feel the ‘darkness’ in the movie more easily. The harsh of European colonialism –portraying by the savage to native African– is adapted in a different sense of seeing how cruel war is during the suffering of civil Vietnamese.
Basically, both the novel and the movie have the same character composition: Marlow and Willard against Kurtz. However, these characters are developed in a different characterization. As an assigned worker to find Kurtz, Marlow and Willard employed the same psychological denial to fulfill their mission during the journey. Facing the fact that materialism leads the company to treat native America as non-human workers trigger Marlow to jump to Kurtz’s side. This inner conflict also happened as Willard witnessing how war fails to get the righteous people. However, Willard seems to have more stable (or in any case, unclear) stance of this, since he was able to assassinate Kurtz himself after his lecturing of the psychology of war and the idea of morality.
The character of Kurtz –both in the novel and movie– is described as a brilliant (even genius) designed to get high position before his unsound way is considered as a threat to the ‘institution’ he comes from. His power to establish own ‘government’ with native tribe worshiping him as a high spiritual figure is seen as mental illness to curry or even, terminate. The ‘Novel’ Kurtz seems did nothing but sharing his ideas to Marlow before his dead, while the ‘Movie’ Kurtz got the chance to show his ‘power’ by imprisoning Willard and killing one of Willard’s crews. Following the different behavior, this character is also physically built in different way. The genius ivory agent is described as a lifeless thin of illness man; while the genius colonel appears as a huge man with military-well built body.
Using the first person point of view, both of the works tell the story through the eyes of Marlow and Willard. However, the different development of these characters of the narrator for me, somehow, impact to the atmosphere of the story. As the narrator, Marlow tends to be more active than Willard. He is actively share his thoughts and perspectives of what he sees and feels of every moment during the journey. On the other hand, Willard performs as a more passive character who functions as the ‘silent camera’ during the movie. The major actions done by him are only the killing of woman survivor in the civil small ship and the killing of Kurtz.
As the reader, I felt –as if I am– led by the author to judge ‘the others’ (concerning racism issue) the same way as it is narrated by Marlow. The journey he experienced is told in a story of his thoughts, leaving less space for the reader to have their own judgment. However, through the eyes of Willard as a ‘silent camera’, I got more space to take my own perspective toward certain issues and the existence and the ‘civilization degree’ of ‘the others’.
The major similarity of the works is the theme, even though they both are served in a different taste. Shifting European Colonialism into American Military Invasion, Apocalypse Now does not diminish the issues of White superiority. Critiques of the idea of civilization (native African and Vietnamese are less civilized than European or American), ‘foreign’ superiority (to enslave African is justifiable as well as to take military invasion during Vietnam War), prejudice mentality and standard of morality (Marlow and Willard are forced to take Kurtz based on the owner of authority’s prejudice), and notion of insanity (they who refuse any cooperation with the ‘righteous’ people and extend their life with ‘uncivilized’ society will turn to be insane) are expressed in this two art works.
Carrying these values, there is no way to deny these two works as the critique of so-called White supremacy.