From Civilization to Madness: Exploration of the Effects of Imperialism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Coppola's Apocalypse Now

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The novella Heart of Darkness written by Joseph Conrad and the film Apocalypse Now, inspired by Conrad's novella, directed by Francis Coppola both involve the departure from civilization into a world of unknown. The protagonists of the stories, Marlow and Willard respectively, embark on a mission to search for Kurtz, a man who is portrayed as an evil genius in both texts. The majority of the plot unravels on the river, as the protagonist travel with a crew on a long, slow boat ride through dangerous dark jungles. This journey, presented similarly in both works, represents a path from civilization and the ideal to a place of madness and insanity. The theme of madness is prevalent in both the novella and the film, particularly evident in …show more content…

As the attack continues, Marlow "[looks] past that mad helmsman, who was shaking the empty rifle and yelling at the shore", and sees "vague forms of [native] men running bent double, leaping, distinct, incomplete, evanescent" (41). Marlow's confirmation of the helmsman's madness makes the theme blatant to readers, and at the same time emphasizes a contrast between the helmsman and the natives. The natives, who are furthest from the cultural goals of imperialism, are described positively in the episode. On the other hand, the helmsman, who is originally a native and has been converted through imperialism, goes mad. Despite the imperialistic attempts to ‘civilise’ the helmsman, the ‘uncivilised’ natives appear much more in control and civilised. Conrad offers a criticism of the imperialism that has warped the helmsman, which presents the reader with evidence of the maddening effect of imperialism.
In Apocalypse Now, the theme of madness is also made evident by Coppola, by the Chief's dialogue with Willard and by using strategic cinematography to show contrast. At one point of the journey, heavy fog descends upon the river and Chief reveals his anxiety as he says “I can’t see a thing Captain. I’m stopping this boat. I ain’t risking no more lives". The Chief slowly changes his personality, as he begins as a calm and reasonable person but transforms into a frantic and

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