Transformation in Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now
Since Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now was based on Joseph Conrad's novel, Heart of Darkness, it is possible to draw many parallels between the two works. Both can be interpreted as metaphors for a journey through the inner self, and each has its own particular message to convey. In many ways they also appear to have similarities to Arthurian Legend, in particular the quest for the holy grail, and other allegorical journey narratives. The sum of the experiences of the protagonists, Marlow in Heart of Darkness and Willard in Apocalypse Now, reveal to them how the horrors and effects of war or conquest, can lead some people to madness, while other persons may discover the light and find absolute truth.
Traveling on a river is often used as a symbol for a journey of self-discovery in numerous literary works. For example, in works such as Dante's Inferno and Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, the protagonists journey down the River Styx, and the Mississippi, respectively; encounter many challenges which provide them with opportunities to reach an understanding of themselves. In Heart of Darkness Marlow accepts his quest to journey up the long and dangerous Congo River to transport ivory from Kurtz's Inner Station back to the Outer Station. In Apocalypse Now Benjamin Willard who began as a special military recruit is sent on a mission up the Nung River to "exterminate with extreme prejudice, (Apocalypse Now)" Kurtz. In each work the protagonists witness and endure unspeakable hostilities along their journeys and in order to survive and accomplish their ultimate goals, both push themselves beyond their physical, spiritual, and mental limits to the point of exhaustion. Throughout the quests, both Marlow and Willard have to make the hard decisions about survival and how best to continue towards the completion of the ultimate quest, and in so doing they become transformed and discover their true inner selves.
The initial goals of each protagonist becomes altered during the course of their journeys. From the outset of the novel, Marlow is depicted as being "not typical (Conrad p. 9)", he is a wandering type of person. It is portrayed as if Marlow does not have a 'home,' and it seems as if he had a "bond [to] the sea (Conrad p.1)." This may lead to an interpretation that he attempts to find out more about himself, and discover his inner character. The re-appearing image of the winding river resembles a journey from a wild uncivilized world, towards the light. In Heart of Darkness when Marlow finds out along the way that Kurtz, the manager of the Inner Station is gravely ill, Marlow turns his attention on reaching Kurtz in time to aid in his recovery. In Apocalypse Now, as Willard ventures with his crew through the Nung River, he witnesses atrocities committed against fellow humans. Although his mission at the beginning was clearly stated as an extermination,...