Apocalypse Now Redux, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, is a powerful film about the Vietnam War. It uses themes, characters, and structure of Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novel Heart of Darkness to deliver a visceral experience of guerrilla warfare during America’s Vietnam adventure. Like Conrad’s novel, it shows man’s capacity to create his own hell on earth.

Apocalypse Now Redux is a new edition by the director of his 1979 film Apocalypse Now and includes footage which was cut from the original film.

Of the making of Apocalypse Now, Coppola has said, “My film is not about Vietnam. It is Vietnam. The way we made it is the way Americans were in Vietnam. We had too much money, access to too much equipment and little by little we went insane.”1

In both the novel and the film a character is dispatched upriver on a quest to rein in a maverick soldier of fortune who has established himself as a demigod among local tribesmen.

Heart of Darkness takes place in the Belgian Congo in the 1890s amid the brutality of colonial exploitation. Charlie Marlow is sent by “The Company” to bring back Kurtz, an ivory hunter who, amid unspeakable rites, is using his own methods for collecting and keeping the treasure. In Apocalypse Now, Captain Willard is sent by shadowy government officials to kill Colonel Kurtz who has crossed the border into Cambodia where he is running his own private war from an empire he has created among the Montagnards. Kurtz (in both stories) is a figure who has learned too well the lessons of imperial power. Unlike the dry company men who were his masters, he undertakes to play them out in person.

The story and film follow Marlow/Willard on the river journey, from the known to the unknown, into the depths of the jungle and to Kurtz’s world of darkness. There is no catharsis in finding Kurtz, no resolution or enlightenment. Both Marlow and Willard glimpse themselves in Kurtz, yet finally decline the chance to replace Kurtz in his world. Kurtz entrusts Marlow/Willard with a manuscript justifying his actions. It only reveals his insanity. In the end, Kurtz is shown as a broken man, with enough self-realization to whisper “the horror, the horror” in remembering what he has done.

Laurel F. Franklin
Associate Professor, Library

1   “Mistah Welles—He Dead,” The Economist, 14 Dec. 1991: 97-98.

Willard/Marlow (Martin Sheen) approaching Kurtz’s (Marlon Brando) compound in the jungle exudes a sense of apprehension and morbid fascination at what he is about to encounter. Marlow/Willard, in Heart of Darkness looking at Kurtz’s station through binoculars gets a jolt to see human skulls surrounding the compound. “These round knobs were not ornamental but symbolic; they were expressive and puzzling, striking and disturbing….”

Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness. New York: Knopf, 1993. 81.

Kurtz's (Marlon Brando) acolyte, the American photographer (Dennis Hopper) greets Marlow/Willard (Martin Sheen), as he enters the compound. He says of Kurtz), "He enlarged my mind." The line is a direct quote from the character of the harlequin (a Russian adventurer) in the novella.

Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness. New York: Knopf, 1993. 76.

Kurtz (Marlon Brando) after Marlow/Willard (Martin Sheen) has found him. Kurtz questions Marlow/Willard (Martin Sheen) and talks about himself. In Heart of Darkness, Marlow/Willard says "Kurtz discoursed. A voice! A voice! It rang deep to the very last. It survived his strength to hide in the magnificent folds of eloquence the barren darkness of his heart."

Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness. New York: Knopf, 1993. 96.


Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. New York: Knopf, 1993.

Jacobs, Diane. "Coppola Films Conrad in Vietnam." In The English Novel and the Movies. Eds. Michael Klein and Gillian Parker.
     New York: Frederick Ungar, 1981. 211-217.

Kinder, Marsha. "The Power of Adaptation in Apocalypse Now." Film Quarterly 33 (1979-80): 12-20.

"Mistah Welles-He Dead." The Economist 321.7737 14 Dec. 1991: 97-98.

Previous Movie Return to main page Next Movie

Copyright © The City College Library