Comparing Marlow of Heart of Darkness and Willard of Apocalypse Now
Whenever books are adapted for film, changes inevitably have to be made. The medium of film offers several advantages and disadvantages over the book: it is not as adept at exploring the inner workings of people - it cannot explore their minds so easily; however, the added visual and audio capabilities of film open whole new areas of the imagination which, in the hands of a competent writer-director, can more than compensate.
Heart of Darkness relies heavily on lengthy philosophical and expository passages, as well as some very unusual and complex imagery; “not the easiest material to rewrite as a screenplay” (Canby, 18). However, rewrite it Francis Ford Coppola did, altering the time and place of the novel from 19th century Congo to 20th century Vietnam. Coppola made an original film, with concepts and ideas taken from Heart of Darkness, rather than making a straight film version of the book. Consequently, there are many similarities and differences between the film and the book.
The character of Marlow is renamed Willard in Apocalypse Now. This is noteworthy; the character of Kurtz has the same name in both the text and the film, so why not Marlow? “This is probably because the character of Kurtz in the film is almost identical to that in the book, whereas Willard is very different from Marlow” (Benner, 34). Kurtz is the person who has disconnected himself from society; he is not tied to any particular era, so his character works just as effectively in the 20th century as in the 19th. However, Marlow is the ordinary person in Heart of Darkness - the one ordinary man in the entire book, more-or-less; he is what ties the book into the society of the day. Willard had to serve the same function in Apocalypse Now and, consequently, could not remain as Marlow, as Marlow has his roots back in the 19th century. Therefore, Coppola elected to change the character, the only similarity between the two being that they are both normal people amongst lunatics, and are both outsiders - Marlow never fits in with the corrupt and immoral Company, and Willard does not play by the usual army rules (both characters are uncannily similar to Kurtz in that respect).
The similarities end there. Willard lacks the depth of thought that Marlow has; Willard does not digress into lengthy ethical debates, or philosophize. Also, he does not use imagery of any sort - the strong, red-eyed devils and the flabby, weak-eyed devils from the book are not mentioned (if Willard were Marlow, he would have admonished the army leaders in Saigon for being flabby devils, for example), nor does he have any of the fascination with shoes and other arbitrary objects and ideas that Marlow seems to. Willard also has no qualms whatsoever about killing, whether it be innocents (the girl on the trading boat) or Kurtz himself; in the book, Marlow had an abhorrence towards killing. These are mostly unavoidable...