Francis Ford Coppola
Pay close attention to how Francis Ford Coppola makes similar statements about US involvement in Southeast Asia during the 1960s as Joseph Conrad does in Heart of Darkness concerning Europe’s intervention in Africa during the 1880s and 1890s. Both artists also create works of art that on the human condition and the psychology of man.
“Write a comparison/contrast essay on Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now. Limit your topic to a single scene in both works. Your goal in this essay is to show how Conrad manipulates the tools of his craft – writing – to create a statement and compare and/or contrast how Coppola creates a similar statement by manipulating the tools of his craft – film.”
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Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness make statements on developed countries’ involvement in “savage” countries, namely US involvements in Southeast Asia and European intervention in Africa. Each follow a man on a journey to meet a man named Kurtz who resides upriver and along the way they both encounter a fog preceding an attack by the natives. This scene in particular highlights the similarities between the works, while Apocalypse now takes its own interpretation based on the book.
Conrad and Coppola utilize imagery, achieving a similar effect. The anticipation of an impending attack on the crews and their panicked anxiety as they wait instills a sense of apprehension in the reader and viewer. Conrad takes advantage of the fog by incorporating foggish diction to add to the suspense and ambiguity to the situation, as well as portray the uneasy feeling present. The white “heap of cotton-wool” acts an uncomfortably warm and blinding shroud, making it impossible for the crew to carry on. Apocalypse Now mirrors this atmosphere closely with a similarly impenetrable fog and mournful howling. The shots fade into one another, adding difficulty to distinguish the silhouettes from each other within the fog. Offscreen, the diegetic sounds the of natives’ cries similarly echo and fill the air around the crew. Just like the pilgrims who are “greatly discomposed” and ask whether the natives would attack, Willard’s crew…
While in the book the fog clears up about two hours prior to the attack, in the movie it remains present and impenetrable up until right before the fusillade of arrows. Conrad fills the scene prior to the attack with sentences full of commas, dragging out each sentence as a long, continuous thought, then suddenly shortening in length as Marlow’s focus quickly jumps from person to person and then finally to the onslaught of sticks. He doesn’t notice the attack as soon as the poleman or fireman do. Even when he sees that “sticks, little sticks were flying about”, it takes him more than a moment to realize that the sticks were actually arrows and “ [They] were being shot at!” Marlow’s delayed reaction adds further confusion to the fog and the attack, Restate the obvious with the delay is if took a moment to register the fact they were attacked contrasting Willard’s quick realization of the harmlessness of the sticks. Coppola parallels the fast pace of the scene in Heart of Darkness by organizing in a series of cuts, quickly jumping from person to person.
Instinctually fire back… marlow only one to realize they are fake… after moment, but they all continue to shoot anyway aiming at nothing. Both men try to stop their men from The helmsman in Heart of Darkness suffers the same fate as Chief in Apocalypse Now, dying from a spear to the chest. Both of the black helmsmen are responsible for piloting the boat carrying the main protagonists to Kurtz, and bother their superiors either with their incompetence or disregard to authority. Their deaths mark a point in Marlow and Willard’s journeys into darkness and insanity. Everything becomes more primitive and absurd the further the reach as the approach the center of the jungle where kurtz resides, and those travelling along with them are affected by the jungle as well.
To show the helmsman’s progression into insanity, Conrad uses an extended metaphor, comparing him to a horse-like animal gone rabid which contrasts the calm restraint of the other natives. As the crew faces the barrage of arrows, he becomes more and more unstable, “stamping his feet, champing his mouth, like a reined-in horse” and then proceeding to foam in the mouth. His insanity manifests itself in his physical for shifting from human to animal. Chief’s progression into madness, on the other hand, is more because of his poor attitude butting heads with Willard, whom he eventually lashes out on after reaching his breaking point in the moment of the attack. Both the helmsman and Chief fire aimlessly into the jungle, almost not even trying to kill them, only out of anger or desperation, leading to their death. While they die by the same tool of the natives, Willard’s response differs from Marlow’s to the death of the helmsman as he reveals.