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Undergraduate Review

Volume 10 Issue 1 Article 6

1997

Civilization and Savagery in 's and 's

Laura Kesselring '97 Illinois Wesleyan University

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Recommended Citation Kesselring '97, Laura (1997) "Civilization and Savagery in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now," Undergraduate Review: Vol. 10 : Iss. 1 , Article 6. Available at: https://digitalcommons.iwu.edu/rev/vol10/iss1/6

This Article is protected by copyright and/or related rights. It has been brought to you by Digital Commons @ IWU with permission from the rights-holder(s). You are free to use this material in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use. For other uses you need to obtain permission from the rights-holder(s) directly, unless additional rights are indicated by a Creative Commons license in the record and/ or on the work itself. This material has been accepted for inclusion by faculty at Illinois Wesleyan University. For more information, please contact [email protected] ©Copyright is owned by the author of this document. Kesselring '97: Civilization and Savagery in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness an IE UNDERGRADUATE REVIEW lal Academy Press, 1995. inted with HIV." Post 23 Feb. 1996. at AIDS, stop Preaching." World Press Review Civilization and Savagery in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Francis Ford CoppoJa's Apocalypse Now

Laura Kesselring

In Apocalypse Now, the film adaptation of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Francis Ford Coppola uses the transformation of Captain Willard to characterize the power of the savagery inherent in all humanity; this view contests Conrad's character Marlow, who affirms the models of Western civilization above any primordial instincts by his resistance to those instincts. To be civilized, according to the New American Webster's Dictionary, is to be "educated in the usages of organized society"; before their journey into the (the "heart of darkness"), both Marlow and Willard live according to certain standards of value prevalent in the civilized, orderly world. These values include morality, class, wealth, intellect, and religion, and make up the way one sees oneself in relation to others and to the world-one's identity. These values are challenged in the "heart of darkness," and while Marlow retains his principles of civilized thought, Willard cannot aban­ don the truth of his origins and rejects the standards to which he once subscribed. In departing from the book's direction, Coppola makes the "heart of darkness" universally accessible, especially to the viewers of his film; he suggests that any human being can be seduced like Willard and the antagonist Kurtz, dismissing Conrad's portrayal of Kurtz as an isolated deviant. Published by Digital Commons @ IWU,21 1997 1 .­ Undergraduate Review, Vol. 10, Iss. 1 [1997], Art. 6 22 THE UNDERGRADUATE REVIEW CIVILIZATION AND SAVAI

In both the novel and the film, the standpoint of the narrator is "unsound ... shows a complete want of judI crucial to the reader's or viewer's perception of him. Conrad constructs while Willard's superior accuses Kurtz of "0 his novel as a tale told by Marlow in retrospect, which reveals Marlow's restraint. ... Very obviously he has gone ins physical and emotional distance from the "heart of darkness." Even These parallels are instrumental in establishi before hearing the story's conclusion, the reader knows that Marlow did Marlow and Willard originate and from whic not succumb to the power of the jungle; this is established by his civi­ digresses but Marlow does not. lized existence outside the "heart of darkness" as a storytelling seaman Marlow feels that the mystery behind) in after the fact. Coppola, on the-other hand, translates transformation lies in the jungle, in what Co Conrad's retrospection into an unpremeditated monologue, exposing of darkness." The "overwhelming realities c Willard's thoughts throughout the story. This adaptation stays true to plants, and water, and silence" (Conrad 244) the novel by transforming Conrad's elaborate descriptions into a spoken ronment, and Marlow senses that he is litera: narrative, aiding the viewer in passages where the story progresses entering another. As he moves further away through the main character's mental deliberation. However, the viewer fundamentally connected to his surrounding~ also feels the acute immediacy of Willard's journey, and there is a sus­ "thrilled" at the idea of a "remote kinship wi pense surrounding his character's outcome that is not present in Heart uproar" (Conrad 246). However, Marlow is ofDarkness. Willard's gradual conversion to a more savage, elemental found relationship with the "heart of darkne~ outlook (in the present time) allows the viewer to feel what he experi­ of its power. He says, "When you have to at ences; in Conrad's novel, however, the reader observes from Marlow's dents of the surface, the reality-the reality, distant perspective, assured of his deliverance from the "heart of dark­ inner truth is hidden-luckily, luckily. But I ness." often its mysterious stillness watching me .. Marlow and Willard begin their journeys with similar back­ speaks of a "truth," a connection that transce grounds. Marlow, a seaman with a penchant for exploring, lives primar­ common passion and savagery of human nat ily within European civilized standards; he tells his companions on the retained throughout the ages and that here, it Thames that after sailing on the , the Pacific Ocean, and common to all humanity, including Marlow; the China Seas, "I had got a heavenly mission to civilize ..." (Conrad power which drew Kurtz irreversibly toward 215). Although rather independent ("I always went my own road ..." of mind, Marlow concludes that "he could n_ [Conrad 216]), he seeks ajob as captain of a steamboat for "the ably lost" (Conrad 279) from logic and conv Company," and submits, on paper, to its statutes: "I flew around like nation with Kurtz, Marlow is content to men mad to get ready ... show myself to my employers, and sign the con­ tal truth and existence, ultimately returning t tract" (Conrad 218). Willard, under contract to the American military, is This satisfaction is absent from Willarc a successful assassin in that his superiors trust him to complete a deli­ personal justification beyond his official mili cate assignment, Kurtz's termination. In the same way, both Kurtzs had Kurtz; searching the dossier for a glimpse in­ subscribed to the respective maxims of the Company and the military; to know the man that first "broke from them' upon their falls from grace, however, the Company describes Kurtz as himself." Conrad feels that the mystery of tI­

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1• Kesselring '97: Civilization and Savagery in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness an HE UNDERGRADUATE REVIEW CIVILIZATION AND SAVAGERY 23 ad the film, the standpoint of the narrator is "unsound ... shows a complete want of judgement" (Conrad 275), viewer's perception of him. Conrad constructs while Willard's superior accuses Kurtz of "operating without any decent if Marlow in retrospect, which reveals Marlow's restraint. ... Very obviously he has gone insane" (Apocalypse Now). listance from the "heart of darkness." Even These parallels are instrumental in establishing a point from which s conclusion, the reader knows that Marlow did Marlow and Willard originate and from which Willard irrevocably :r of the jungle; this is established by his civi­ digresses but Marlow does not. le "heart.of darkness" as a storytelling seaman Marlow feels that the mystery behind Kurtz's disappearance and Coppola, on the-other hand, translates transformation lies in the jungle, in what Conrad refers to as the "heart Ito an unpremeditated monologue, exposing of darkness." The "overwhelming realities of this strange world of ~hout the story. This adaptation stays true to plants, and water, and silence" (Conrad 244) suggest a primordial envi­ g Conrad's elaborate descriptions into a spoken ronment, and Marlow senses that he is literally leaving one world and ~er in passages where the story progresses entering another. As he moves further away from civilization, he feels ter's mental deliberation. However, the viewer fundamentally connected to his surroundings and to the natives, ~diacy of Willard's journey, and there is a sus­ "thrilled" at the idea of a "remote kinship with this wild and passionate lafacter's outcome that is not present in Heart uproar" (Conrad 246). However, Marlow is not blinded by this new­ ~radual conversion to a more savage, elemental found relationship with the "heart of darkness," but is instead conscious me) allows the viewer to feel what he experi­ of its power. He says, "When you have to attend to ... the mere inci­ ,however, the reader observes from Marlow's dents of the surface, the reality-the reality, I tell you-fades. The red of his deliverance from the "heart of dark­ inner truth is hidden-luckily, luckily. But I felt it all the same; I felt often its mysterious stillness watching me ..." (Conrad 244). Here he ·d begin their journeys with similar back- speaks of a "truth," a connection that transcends time and civilization, a nan with a penchant for exploring, lives primar­ common passion and savagery of human nature that the natives have lized standards; he tells his companions on the retained throughout the ages and that here, in the "heart of darkness," is ~ on the Indian Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, and common to all humanity, including Marlow and Kurtz. Observing this ot a heavenly mission to civilize ..." (Conrad power which drew Kurtz irreversibly toward a primitive, instinctual state Idependent ("I always went my own road ..." of mind, Marlow concludes that "he could not have been more irretriev­ a job as captain of a steamboat for "the ably lost" (Conrad 279) from logic and convention; in spite of his fasci­ on paper, to its statutes: "I flew around like nation with Kurtz, Marlow is content to merely observe this fundamen­ lW myself to my employers, and sign the con­ tal truth and existence, ultimately returning to civilization. llard, under contract to the American military, is This satisfaction is absent from Willard's drive for truth. He seeks that his superiors trust him to complete a deli­ personal justification beyond his official military orders for terminating .termination. In the same way, both Kurtzs had Kurtz; searching the dossier for a glimpse into Kurtz's soul, he desires tive maxims of the Company and the military; to know the man that first "broke from them" and then "broke from lce, however, the Company describes Kurtz as himself." Conrad feels that the mystery of the "heart of darkness" in the

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novel is too dangerous to. explore, citing Kurtz's fate as proof of its Company policy is meaningless to Kurtz. ' power. However, Coppola paints Willard as a man obsessed with pene­ "the inconceivable mystery of a soul that k trating the conundrum of Kurtz; Willard feels that to kill Kurtz he must and no fear ..." (Conrad 274); he does not first understand him, but once he permeates the mystery of the "heart of Company and civilization do, according to darkness," he is unable to return to his innocence. Willard feels the forsaken. same connection to the savagery of the jungle and its people that Finally, the dichotomy in the fates of Marlow does. His profession as a military assassin is a civilized, rea­ evident from the final scenes of both the ne soned form of killing, but these regulated limits begin to blur as he Darkness, Kurtz has irrevocably retreated i: moves deeper into the "heart of darkness" and away from military influ­ into "the wilderness ... that seemed to dfa' ence. by the wakening of forgotten and brutal ins In the film, a snag in Willard's mission occurs in the form of a However, Marlow is able to withstand such wounded Vietnamese girl on a passing boat; he kills her without enters Kurtz's realm after witnessing the co remorse, determined at this point to let nothing stand in the way of his Kurtz's fate is absolute; Marlow believes th journey. This is a sign of a fundamental change in his value system-he taken him, loved him, embraced him, got ir sheds his morality and military conduct in favor of instinct and selfish flesh, and sealed his soul to its own ..." (C desire. After killing the girl, Willard himself admits that "Those boys vives the transition from jungle to civilizati were never going to look at me the same way again, but I felt like I soul behind: "The brown current ran swift!) knew one or two things about Kurtz that weren't in the dossier" ... and Kurtz's life was running swiftly, tOI (Apocalypse Now); he is altered inwardly as well as outwardly. heart into the sea of inexorable time" (Com In Heart ofDarkness, Marlow addresses the meaninglessness of poraneity and value systems of the modem civilized conventions in the heart of the jungle; in the wilderness, he the "heart of darkness," Conrad upholds the says man "must meet the truth with his own true stuff-with his own survival and narration of Kurtz's story. inborn strength. Principles won't do. Acquisitions, clothes, pretty On the other hand, the death of Apocc rags-rags that would fly off at the first good shake" (Conrad 247). tated by the savagery of basic human natun However, instead of permanently discarding these standards, Marlow camp, Willard is "baptized" in rain and mUI retains his Western value system and accepts both outlooks on life for his kinship with them. The finality of Will. their applications in different situations. This balance is upset in fests itself in the instinctual, savage mannel Apocalypse Now when Willard approaches Kurtz's end of the river. "termination" itself resembles one creature Tossing Kurtz's dossier into the water (a symbolic rejection of the mili­ ty within a group, and places Willard on the tary and their judgement of Kurtz), he leaves his prior belief systems Kurtz. Coppola places his actions on a par; behind and yields to the power of the jungle and whatever lies ahead in ter of the ox; Willard emerges the victoriou Kurtz's world. In the novel, the manager responds to Kurtz's actions .fices himself to the '~heart of darkness." Kl with proper Company procedure, declaring, "It is my duty to point primordial connection with the jungle, retu: [Kurtz's actions] out in the proper quarter" (Conrad 275). However, death; in essence, Kurtz belongs to the "he. https://digitalcommons.iwu.edu/rev/vol10/iss1/6 4

1 1 Kesselring '97: Civilization and Savagery in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness an CIVILIZATION AND SAVAGERY [Ii UNDERGRADUATE REVIEW 25

explore, citing Kurtz's fate as proof of its Company policy is meaningless to Kurtz. To Marlow, Kurtz possesses a paints Willard as a man obsessed with pene­ "the inconceivable mystery of a soul that knew no restraint, no faith, Kurtz; Willard feels that to kill Kurtz he must and no fear .. ." (Conrad 274); he does not judge Kurtz, as the once he permeates the mystery of the "heart of Company and civilization do, according to the standards that Kurtz has

I return to his innocence. Willard feels the forsaken. lvagery of the jungle and its people that Finally, the dichotomy in the fates of Marlow and Willard is most sion as a military assassin is a civilized, rea­ evident from the final scenes of both the novel and the film. In Heart of t these regulated limits begin to blur as he Darkness, Kurtz has irrevocably retreated into the "heart of darkness," ~art of darkness" and away from military influ­ into "the wilderness ... that seemed to draw him to its pitiless breasts by the wakening of forgotten and brutal instincts ..." (Conrad 279). n Willard's mission occurs in the form of a However, Marlow is able to withstand such an entrapment when he on a passing boat; he kills her without enters Kurtz's realm after witnessing the consequences of such a choice. lis point to let nothing stand in the way of his Kurtz's fate is absolute; Marlow believes that "The wilderness ... had ,a fundamental change in his value system-he taken him, loved him, embraced him, got into his veins, consumed his ilitary conduct in favor of instinct and selfish flesh, and sealed his soul to its own ..." (Conrad 260). Marlow sur­ ~irl, Willard himself admits that "Those boys vives the transition from jungle to civilization, while Kurtz leaves his at me the same way again, but I felt like I soul behind: "The brown current ran swiftly out of the heart of darkness Ibout Kurtz that weren't in the dossier" ... and Kurtz's life was running swiftly, too, ebbing, ebbing out of his altered inwardly as well as outwardly. heart into the sea of inexorable time" (Conrad 282). While the contem­ ss, Marlow addresses the meaninglessness of poraneity and value systems of the modem world are dead to Kurtz in he heart of the jungle; in the wilderness, he the "heart of darkness," Conrad upholds their strength through Marlow's truth with his own true stuff-with his own survival and narration of Kurtz's story. es won't do. Acquisitions, clothes, pretty On the other hand, the death of Apocalypse Now's Kurtz was dic­ I off at the first good shake" (Conrad 247). tated by the savagery of basic human nature. On his arrival at Kurtz's Ilanently discarding these standards, Marlow camp, Willard is "baptized" in rain and mud by the natives, symbolizing system and accepts both outlooks on life for his kinship with them. The finality of Willard's transformation mani­ :rent situations. This balance is upset in fests itself in the instinctual, savage manner in which he kills Kurtz; the rillard approaches Kurtz's end of the river. "termination" itself resembles one creature killing another for superiori­ nto the water (a symbolic rejection of the mili­ ty within a group, and places Willard on the same level of "insanity" as of Kurtz), he leaves his prior belief systems Kurtz. Coppola places his actions on a parallel with the natives' slaugh­ power of the jungle and whatever lies ahead in ter of the ox; Willard emerges the victorious hunter while Kurtz sacri­ vel, the manager responds to Kurtz's actions fices himself to the ".heart of darkrless." Kurtz's blood symbolizes his ocedure, declaring, "It is my duty to point primordial connection with the jungle, returning to the earth after his he proper quarter" (Conrad 275). However, death; in essence, Kurtz belongs to the "heart of darkness" and has sev­

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ered any ties to his family and to civilization. Coppola illustrates the WORKS CIT) dominance of the savage and the instinctual over Willard's learned con­ Conrad, Joseph. Great Short Works oflosl ventions; rather than using a more convenient and logical form of assas­ Harper & Row, 1966. sination (such as bullets or poison), Willard reverts to the savage hunter Apocalypse Now. Dir. Francis Ford Coppc within his being, stalking and finally "slaughtering" Kurtz. Willard's severance from his former civilized life and values is complete; as he leaves the camp, he turns off the radio, a construct of civilization and the military, and departs for an unknown destination. The viewer, hav­ ing felt his transformation, knows that he will not return to the military, nor to his place in civilized society. In Heart of Darkness, Conrad manifests his belief in the strength of Western value systems through the character of Marlow. Faced with the horror of his own brutal origins, Marlow keeps a perspective that returns him, secure in his identity, to London. This image is a contrast to Conrad's Kurtz, whose divergence from the path of civilized reason is attributed to emotional weakness and insanity; Marlow reports, "his soul was mad" (Conrad 280). On the other hand, Coppola illustrates the fun­ damental need for Willard to return to jungle savagery in Apocalypse Now; his survival in the "heart of darkness" is contingent upon the shed­ ding of constructs of both civilization and the military. In the novel, Conrad expects his readers to relate to Marlow as a narrator and similar­ ly arrive at the same conclusions by the story's end. By drawing his viewers into Willard's mind with the immediacy of the action, Coppola connects them fundamentally to the "heart of darkness" and to Willard's transformation and reassessment of values. This break from Conrad's point of view causes the viewer of Apocalypse Now to question their own belief systems, whereas Conrad's reader is reassured of the rele­ vance of such values.

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4 Kesselring '97: Civilization and Savagery in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness an HE UNDERGRADUATE REVIEW CIVILIZATION AND SAVAGERY 27 y and to civilization. Coppola illustrates the WORKS CITED and the instinctual over Willard's learned con­ Conrad, Joseph. Great Short Works ofJoseph Conrad. New York: 19 a more convenient and logical fonn of assas­ Harper & Row, 1966. or poison), Willard reverts to the savage hunter Apocalypse Now. Dir. Francis Ford Coppola. United Artists, 1979. ~ and finally "slaughtering" Kurtz. Willard's ~r civilized life and values is complete; as he : off the radio, a construct of civilization and for an unknown destination. The viewer, hav­ n, knows that he will not return to the military, ed society. ss, Conrad manifests his belief in the strength , through the character of Marlow. Faced with tal origins, Marlow keeps a perspective that ; identity, to London. This image is a contrast ~ divergence from the path of civilized reason is 'eakness and insanity; Marlow reports, "his soul On the other hand, Coppola illustrates the fun­ d to return to jungle savagery in Apocalypse 'heart of darkness" is contingent upon the shed­ 1 civilization and the military. In the novel, rs to relate to Marlow as a narrator and similar­ ~lusions by the story's end. By drawing his ind with the immediacy of the action, Coppola tally to the "heart of darkness" and to Willard's ~ssment of values. This break from Conrad's viewer of Apocalypse Now to question their ~eas Conrad's reader is reassured of the rele-

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