Inherent inside every human soul is a savage evil side that remains repressed by society. Often this evil side breaks out during times of isolation from our culture, and whenever one culture confronts another. Joseph Conrad’s book, The Heart of Darkness and Francis Coppola’s movie, Apocalypse Now are both stories about Man’s journey into his self, and the discoveries to be made there. They are also about Man confronting his fears of failure, insanity, death, and cultural contamination. Heart of Darkness is about a man named Marlo telling of a trip he took into Africa to find a man named Kurtz for a company.
During Marlow’s mission to find Kurtz, he is also trying to find himself. He, like Kurtz had good intentions upon entering the Congo. Conrad tries to show us that Marlow is what Kurtz had been, and Kurtz is what Marlow could become. Every human has a little of Marlow and Kurtz in them. Along the trip into the wilderness, they discover their true selves through contact with savage natives. As Marlow ventures further up the Congo, he feels like he is traveling back through time. He sees the unsettled wilderness and can feel the darkness of it’s solitude.
Marlow comes across simpler cannibalistic cultures along the banks. The deeper into the jungle he goes, the more regressive the inhabitants seem. Kurtz had lived in the Congo, and was separated from his own culture for quite some time. He had once been considered an honorable man, but the jungle changed him greatly. Here, secluded from the rest of his own society, he discovered his evil side and became corrupted by his power and solitude.
Marlow tells us about the Ivory that Kurtz kept as his own, and that he had no restraint, and was ” a tree swayed by the wind. Conrad 209) Marlow mentions the human heads displayed on posts that “showed that Mr. Kurtz lacked restraint in the gratification of his various lusts. ” (Conrad, 220) Conrad also tells us “his nerves went wrong, and caused him to preside at certain midnight dances ending with unspeakable rights, which were offered up to him,” (Conrad, 208) meaning that Kurtz went insane and allowed himself to be worshipped as a god. It appears that while Kurtz had been isolated from his culture, he had become corrupted by this violent native culture, and allowed his evil side to control him.
Marlow realizes that only very near the time of death, does a person grasp the big picture. He describes Kurtz’s last moments “as though a veil had been rent. ” (Conrad, 239) Kurtz’s last moment of complete knowledge , showed him how horrible the human soul really can be. Marlow can only speculate as to what Kurtz saw that caused him to exclaim “The horror! The horror,” but later adds that “Since I peeped over the edge myself, I understand better the meaning of his stare it was wide enough to embrace the whole universe, piercing enough to penetrate all the hearts that beat in the darkness he had summed up, he had judged.
Marlow guesses that Kurtz suddenly knew everything and discovered how horrible the duplicity of man can be. Marlow learned through Kurtz’s death, and he now knows that inside every human is this horrible, evil side. Francis Coppola’s movie, Apocalypse Now, is based loosely upon Conrad’s book. Captain Willard is a Marlow who is on a mission into Cambodia during the Vietnam war to find and kill an insane Colonel Kurtz. Coppola’s Kurtz, as he experienced his epiphany of horror, was an officer and a sane, successful, brilliant leader.
Like Conrad’s Kurtz, Coppola shows us a man who was once very well respected, but was corrupted by the horror of war and the cultures he met. The story Kurtz tells Willard about the Special Forces going into a village, inoculating the children for polio and going away, and the communists coming into the village and cutting off all the children’s inoculated arms, is the main evidence for this implication in that film. This is when Kurtz begins to go mad, he “wept like some grandmother” when, called back by a villager, he saw the pile of little arms, a sophisticated version of the “escalating horrors.
What Kurtz meant by “escalating horrors” is the Vietnamese army’s senseless decapitation, torture, and the like. Kurtz is facing a new culture and has a terrible time dealing with it. This was the beginning of his insanity. The disconnection between the opening words of Kurtz’s report “By the simple exercise of our will, we can exert a power for good practically unbounded” and the note on the last page, “Exterminate all the brutes! ” illustrates the progressive externalization of Kurtz’s fear of contamination.
The personal fear of loss of self-which colonialist whites saw in the uncivilized, seemingly regressive lifestyle of the natives. Coppola makes a point to show us that the Chief of a boat armed to the teeth was killed by a native in a tree who threw a spear. Not even an advanced Navy boat can defend itself against some simple natives armed only with spears. This opens Captain Willard’s eyes to the horror of the situation he now finds himself in. We live our lives sheltered in our own society, and our exposure to cultures outside of our own is limited at best.
Often, the more technologically advanced cultures look down upon those that they deem to be simpler. On the occasion that some member of one culture does come into contact with another, simpler culture, a self discovery happens. Both cultures realize that deep down inside, all humans are essentially the same. We all posses a good and an evil side, and no culture, not matter how advanced, is exempt from that fact. This discovery often causes madness as this evil side is allowed out. Only those who have completed the journey into self can understand the actions of people such as Kurtz.