Comparison of Characterization of Marlow in the Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now Film - Essay Sample

Published: 2023-03-16
Comparison of Characterization of Marlow in the Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now Film - Essay Sample
Type of paper:  Literature review
Categories:  Movie World literature
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1722 words
15 min read

Ideally, a film adaptation is a concept that is increasingly becoming common in the modern world of literature since the nineteenth century. A film adaptation can adequately be described as the successful transition of a written text, either in a complete or part of it to a movie or film (Kinder 12). It is more often regarded as a form of derivative work whereby a considerable number of stories or books act as the basis of a feature film. Significant examples of literary works that have been mainly adapted into movies are comic books, scriptures, historical events as well as plays. However, a film adaptation is undoubtedly a repetition exclusive of any imitation in that it can repeat a similar theme, characters, or setting (Kinder 12). Still, it does not repeat the initial idea, but instead, it presents the story in a completely different way featuring striking colors and outlines. From this perspective, Apocalypse Now is a compelling epic film that was primarily inspired by the book Heart of Darkness. As such, aspects like the primary plot apart from the main objective and the speaker who narrates the story in the first person are similar, and the only variation emerges where the narrator of the Novel is called Marlow.

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In contrast, in the movie, he is given the name Willard. The chief aim of this essay is therefore to provide a critical overview of the comparison between the characterization of the book and the film. The two central characters Captain Willard and Marlow share numerous characteristics, which effectively contributes to their similarity and differences (Kinder 15). For instance, Marlow, who is featured in the Novel as the narrator, is described as a man who is pursuing his mission through Cambodia in search of Kurtz (Kinder 16). Willard, in the film, on the contrary, is pronounced as a man who is on a critical purpose of exterminating a colleague of the Armed Forces of the United States, namely, Kurtz.

In essence, Apocalypse Now is a Vietnam corresponding to the story Heart of Darkness. Marlow is characteristically the storyteller throughout the book, in contrast to Willard, who tells the entire storyline from his point of view. Both characters are competent in what they are commissioned to do, and they perform their mission with a lot of dedication and perfection, whether it involved sailing or killing, they were both devoted to their work (Hagen 45). Whereas both the central characters are on a mission to find a man of their interest, they both experience devastating adversities on their way. However, they both apply similar expressions to explain their circumstances, where they commonly use the term "the horror (Kinder 16)." Another similarity is found on the notes that Marlow happens to obtain from Kurtz and the one Willard sees after killing Kurtz, and the records state that "Exterminate all the brutes (Kinder 18)." Thus, in spite of the unquestionable evidence that both Willard and Marlow were desperately on the lookout for Kurtz, their characters portrayed men full of self-assurance.

Additionally, both Marlow and Willard were served with the responsibility of leaders, whereby Willard was the leading captain in their army while Marlow was the ship captain, which he boarded to look for Kurtz and transmit ivory. Besides, the two characters are seen to be condemnatory and curious, and it is widely argued that Willard is a "killer antagonizing a killer (Hagen 48)." As a consequence, Willard is viewed as a character without morals as compared to Marlow primarily because he murdered Kurtz, although Marlow's role is not without fault. The significant difference depicted in their morals is that at the beginning of their stories, Marlow was introduced as having morals while Willard was displayed as the opposite. Nonetheless, in the end, the stories concerning the two characters have similar realities as both confront darkness in the pure form of a man.

As for Kurtz in the book Heart of Darkness, he is a character that is mainly viewed through a dialogue with other characters, whereas the Kurtz featured in the film Apocalypse Now is a real and physical characteristic that the audience can perceive and hear. However, in both the Novel and the movie, the character represented by Kurtz is mistaken and self-interested by the time he comes across Marlow or Willard. Therefore, the significant differences between the book and the film can significantly be seen in the character of Kurtz as well as the way Marlow and Willard respond to his presence or his point of view that equally reveals to as the real characters of Marlow and Willard. Typically, it is apparent from the books that Marlow becomes more captivated by Kurtz as compared to Willard (Hagen 48). In this view, it is clear from both the film and the Novel the mental training that the two principal characters undergo, in an attempt to understand Kurtz as a person and embark on the preparations to meeting with him by focusing on reading some of the U.S. army reports and listening to various distinct testimonies, and this happens mainly in the Apocalypse Now.

However, the gradual identification of the central characters on the concept of Kaurtz philosophy is crucial in both works, although the movie took a larger space that the Novel to talk about the encounter with Kurtz. Also, the act of Willard in killing Kurtz in the film should not deceive the viewers as in the book, Kurtz has been portrayed more of a contrary character, but he dies naturally after falling ill (Hagen 49). From the movie, Kurtz is not connected to any material goods, although he only aspires to have extreme power equal to the semi-God condition. His displayed violence helps in depicting his main goals of creating an independent kingdom, upon which he can identify his actual nature and dies peacefully, away from the real darkness or evil that makes the entire world to be weak (Hagen 50). However, based on this perspective and due to his massive culture, Kurtz is seen as a positive character in the film, regardless of the method he uses, his character in the movie is more profound than in the book.

Notably, the differences in the characterization in both if the works can be seen in the mission the characters target to achieve. For Willard, he had to neutralize Kurtz. Notwithstanding his character, the United States forces understood that something terrible had occurred as they learned that he was refusing to heed to the orders from his superiors, mistake that was enough to persecute him. Moreover, from both the book and the movie, it can be argued that Marlow and Willard are not only fascinated concerning Kurtz, but they are also on a substantial search for understanding evil and identifying how it manifests in every character. Thus, both the central characters are captivated by Kurtz's outrageous and horrific ways. Upon arriving at the central station, Marlow meets with Kurtz, who is described verbally throughout the book and very ill and weak at this point. The description of Marlow regarding Kurtz reveals how weak Kurtz was when they met, where he states that "He rose, unsteady, long, pale, like a vapor exhaled by the earth, but although he could hardly stand by himself, there was much vigor in his voice ( Heart of Darkness 99-100)." Nevertheless, other than the two protagonists and Kurtz, there are also three other characters presented in the Heart of darkness and have their counterparts in the film Apocalypse. An example of the characters is the person-welcoming Marlow at the station before meeting with Kurtz.

In the Novel, he is a Russian while in the film, and he is presented as an American photo correspondent. Moreover, on both sides, the characters idolize Kurtz and keep on insisting on the principal characters to support him. Also, from the book, the Russian came to the interior of Africa as a loyal representative of a Dutch firm. His general look, as well as personality, makes him glamour and look like a young youth of adventure. His slight tone clothes significantly remind Marlow of a harlequin. The Russian is also a dedicated follower of Kurtz as he explains to Marlow that "You cannot judge Kurtz as an ordinary man as he came to them with thunder and lightning (Demory 9)." Equally, in the film, the photojournalist is also a worshipper of Kurtz, who warmly welcome Willard and the rest of the crew like he had been expecting them. He excitedly presents himself like an American and expresses a sense of admiration of Kurtz from the beginning with a lot of enthusiasm. The journalist had, however, been incorporated into the Kurtz philosophy and acted as a character who connected both Kurtz and Willard. Another vital character featured in the film is the novella character, namely Chief, who experiences a similar fate as the Helmsman of the book. IN both works, thus character is separated from the whites mainly because of his skin color, which was black.

Additionally, in both works of literature, there are significant examples of the good and evil in people. For instance, In the Heart of Darkness, Marlow talks about a character named Fresleven, who was murdered in a battle with some nations. The quarrel between Fresleven and the natives emerged as a result of chickens, and Fresleven felt the deal had been taken away from him. Marlow defines Fresleven as " the gentlest, quietest creature that ever walked on two legs (Hagen 52)." Equally, the scene in the film where Willard first encounters Kilgore demonstrates the way a fight can reveal the dark side in individuals. The armed forces' attitude towards their opponents at this particular scene effectively depicts the evil character of human beings.

Conclusively, Apocalypse Now is one of the best films in the American cinema that is based on a book or is an adaptation of a novel. The two-literature work regards the same concept although they have certain differences in some details. The characters in the movie are indeed a direct reference of those in the novella, and from their ideals and tasks, they are served with similar roles.

Work Cited

Demory, Pamela. "Apocalypse Now Redsi: Heart of Darkness Moves into new territory." Literature/Film Quarterly 35 (2007): 1.

Hagen, William M. "HEART OF DARKNESS" AND THE PROCESS OF" APOCALYPSE NOW." Conradian 13.1 (1981): 45-54.

Kinder, Marsha. "The Power of Adaptation in" Apocalypse Now." Film Quarterly 33.2 (1979): 12-20.

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Comparison of Characterization of Marlow in the Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now Film - Essay Sample. (2023, Mar 16). Retrieved from

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