The 1978 film Apocalypse Now, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, is based on Conrad’s story ”Heart of Darkness.” While Conrad’s story is set in the Congo in the 1890s, and is a commentary on imperialism in the form of Belgian colonization, Coppola’s film is set during the Vietnam War in the 1960s, and is a commentary on U.S. involvement in the Vietnam conflict. Coppola retained the central narrative trajectory, in which a Captain Willard (played by Martin Sheen), substituted for Conrad’s character Marlow, is sent on a mission to retrieve a renegade Colonel Kurtz (played by Marlon Brando), whose ”unsound methods” in Cambodia have caused alarm among military leaders. Apocalypse Now includes a notable performance by Dennis Hopper as the character equivalent to Conrad’s Harlequin Russian soldier, who maniacally worships Kurtz. While critics agree that Coppola’s film is an impressive achievement in cinematic style, they disagree on the political implications of the film. It is clearly an indictment of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, but is full of ambiguity in its greater implications. The documentary, Hearts of Darkness (1992), chronicles the making of the film.
“Heart of Darkness” is based on Conrad’s experiences as the captain of a steamboat in the Congo River (the second longest river in Africa, after the Nile) during the 1890s. At that time, the Congo was under the rule of King Leopold II of Belgium. Although he ”gave” what was then called The Free State of the Congo to the Belgian people in 1895, his rule over the region effectively remained until his death in 1909. Under Leopold’s rule, the African people were exploited for their work, and treated as badly and brutally as slaves. Upon Leopold’s death, it became the Belgian Congo, and was ruled by Belgium until 1960, when it won independence. Between 1960 and 1965, the region suffered from the political upheaval of formulating a new government. In 1965, Joseph-Desire Mobutu became president of the Congo. In 1971, Mobutu changed the country’s name to Zaire, and his own name to Mobutu Sese Seko, as well as changing the names of other places within the nation. In 1997, it became the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Ford Madox Ford
Conrad became a personal friend and co-author of the novelist Ford Madox Ford, with whom he wrote two books. Ford, considered among the greatest of novelists, is best known for The Good Soldier (1915). Other important works include Parade’s End, a four-part series made up of: Some Do Not (1924), No More Parades (1925), A Man Could Stand Up (1926), and Last Post (1928). Ford was known for his close association with many of the great writers of his day, and for his encouragement of younger writers.
“Heart of Darkness” was first published in three monthly installment’s in Blackwood’s Magazine. Blackwood’s Magazine was an important literary influence in nineteenth-century Britain. It was originally founded by William Blackwood, a Scottish bookseller, in 1817, originally entitled Edinburgh Monthly Magazine, and later Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine; in 1905 it became Blackwood’s Magazine. Originally focusing on political satire, it was also a literary journal publishing poems, short stories, and novels in serial form. Eventually, it became less political and more literary, publishing works of such renowned authors as George Eliot and Anthony Trollope as well as Joseph Conrad.
Jennifer Smith – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 12, Joseph Conrad, Published by Gale Group, 2001.