Heart of Darkness Versus Apocalypse Now: The Death of Kurtz
Joseph Conrad wrote Heart of Darkness to disguise his disapproval of European imperialism in the Congo. He describes the chaos and savagery found in the Congo to convince Europeans that they should stay out of Africa. Francis Ford Coppola made Apocalypse Now to disguise his disapproval of American involvement in Vietnam. He depicts the merciless slaughter of countless Vietnamese to show Americans that the United States does more harm than good in Vietnam. In each instance, the creator’s country claims one goal, but accomplishes something entirely different when in battle. Marlow and Willard face the corruption, personified by Kurtz, differently, but both Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now explore the convictions of the human heart when faced with evil.
Although they both obsess over finding Kurtz, they act out of two completely different motives. Marlow, a curious seaman, procures a job with a shipping company, so he can explore the old “blank spaces” on his childhood map, not because he wants to stop Kurtz’s mad reign. Willard, a hardened soldier, travels to Vietnam planning to kill Kurtz and end his corruption. Marlow plans to help Kurtz and wants to help him recover from his mental breakdown. Willard, on the other hand, watches Kurtz in bewilderment and despises his madness. Conrad shows that Marlow cares about Kurtz by revealing Marlow’s curiosity in their conversations on the boat. Coppola creates Kurtz’s sanctum as a sullen cellar where Willard waits in bewilderment as Kurtz’s madness fills the air like the smoke that surrounds him. Although their techniques are different, Conrad and Coppola show the intense internal struggle that Marlow and Willard, two separate points on the social spectrum, face when confronting Kurtz.
Marlow and Willard have different missions, but their decisions both result in Kurtz’s death. In Heart of Darkness, Marlow recovers Kurtz body but not his mind, so he dies slowly, on the way back to Europe, but in Apocalypse Now, Willard accomplishes his mission by killing Kurtz directly, slashing him at the same time the natives slash the bull. Conrad juxtaposes Marlow’s mental deviation with Kurtz’s corporal decay in order to show that corruption spreads if not tamed. Willard’s sanity also deviates while under the hypnotic spell of Kurtz, but Coppola shows that temptation can be overcome by allowing Willard to break free of Kurtz’s spell and quell his evil reign forever. When isolated, a corrupt heart withers away...