Despite being separated by about seventy years, Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad and Apocalypse Now, by Francis Coppola, both share very similar themes and even character names. In fact, Coppola sought Conrad's novella as inspiration for his film. However, the most amazing part of the film was that Coppola was able to take passages and quotes from Conrad's colonialism era novella and turn them into scenes and dialogue in a Vietnam-era movie. Despite the numerous setbacks and problems that Coppola encountered during the filming of his motion picture, he, in my opinion, was able to accurately portrayed the characters and events captured in the novella while modernizing and providing a more likely scenario of events than those in the book. If I have learned only two things from this Conrad/Coppola unit, it is that translating a novel or novella into a movie requires months to make and it requires millions of dollars. Despite sharing many parallels, Coppola was able to take a lesser-known period like the Imperialism era, when Heart of Darkness is set to take place, and adapt the plot to fit an era that was very recent at the time the movie was filmed in 1979.
There are many other parallels between the film and the novella, yet Coppola is able to film his movie in such a way that these parallels are not too overburdening and feel like they come from the same place. Apocalypse Now makes use of several vital parts from Conrad's text like a similar plot structure: the respective protagonists (Captain Willard in Apocalypse Now, and Marlow in Heart of Darkness) go on a mission in jungles of Vietnam/Cambodia, or Congo which involves a journey up a river in search of an elusive army colonel or ivory trader called Kurtz. In addition, the major themes of hypocrisy, and the corruptibility of power are pervasive throughout both works. Coppola uses the unpopularity of the Vietnam War and the military to his advantage as he shows the hypocrisy of the military through the characters of Willard and Kurtz. Willard receives orders to "terminate Kurtz's command" because the army claims that he is waging his own, referring to the assassination of four Vietcong double agents; however, Willard is skeptical that Kurtz's actions warrant his death and is furthermore ironic because "Charging someone for murder out here was like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500."I believe that Coppola's choice to use Willard's mental clarity to see through the lies of the army reflects that he is trying to incorporate the novella into the film. In both works, the major power, either the company or the army, wants Kurtz dead because of his knowledge of the terrible things that are going on around him. Another important scene and section of the novella was the action of leaving the jungle after the death of Kurtz. I thought that this was, by far, the most important similarity and theme of the two works. The temptation of leading the clan of natives, in other words power, Kurtz's personal weakness, does not have the same effect on Willard and Marlow that it did on Kurtz. This walking away from power and the opportunity to lead shows that both protagonists have experienced a tremendous amount of personal growth. The decision to eliminate everything pertaining to Kurtz's fiancé from the film, I believe was a good choice. The couple sections in the novella dealing with Marlow's return back to Europe and the conversations about Kurtz served no practical purpose to the text and led to further clouding up the true importance presented in the novella. It is extremely hard for me to fathom ever being a screenwriter and facing the daunting task of translating a piece of literature into a film. Coppola demonstrates just how challenging deciding what to include, exclude or change during the conversion process in the documentary Hearts of Darkness.
The documentary, Hearts of Darkness, directed by Eleanor Coppola, offers interesting insights into the filming process of a blockbuster movie. Everything from cast selection, to writing the script, to finding a location to film the movie are all very important and time consuming decisions that the director must deal with. The filming process never goes entirely as planned, which forces directors to make quick and smart decisions regarding modifications to the script and cast. For example, Coppola was unable to shoot the film in Vietnam because the production team was afraid of being shot because the war was still going on when the movie was set to start filming in 1975, and the United States military said that they would not be associated or help in the creation of this film. As a result, Coppola chose the Philippines because of its close resemblance to the jungles of Vietnam and Cambodia. In addition, when Marlon Brando was casted to play the part of Colonel Kurtz, Coppola was under the assumption that the chubby Brando would lose weight to better fit his character. Ultimately, Brando did not lose the weight and Coppola was forced to modify the scene dealing with Kurtz's death. Obviously the new ending, where Kurtz is sacrificially killed by Captain Willard, Coppola added is a much stronger ending to the extent that the lure to stay and lead the tribe is greater because Willard has dethroned the "king" and he would next in line to lead. During the filming process, Coppola becomes so immersed in his work that he is seen wearing a novelty arrow on his head, similar to the scene in the movie. In addition, the documentary also shows an old-fashion tape recorder and the audience can hear a conversation that is taking place between Coppola and his wife, a similar image to the scene where Willard is given his mission. Personally, I believe that Coppola was able to create an effective film that captured all of the major themes in Heart of Darkness, while adding the correct amount of suspense and humor to keep viewers interested throughout the two and a half hour film.
While Hearts of Darkness attempts to capture the process of translating a novella like Heart of Darkness into a film like Apocalypse Now, Coppola's style is too unique to be summarized into a documentary without feeling slightly confused. Ironically, confusion is a theme that is shared by both the movie and the novella. Ultimately, we the viewers are left asking more questions than Coppola's film provides us answers. We are truly the ones in the dark.