I started reading Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness almost 10 days ago; I’ve read it several times before. A few years after I saw the movie (aka Apocalypse Now). Then once for a class in the English novel. There we got the whole lecture of the novel’s mythopoeic themes — a hero’s journey into darkness and his return to the light.
But now, as when I first read the novel, I keep trying to find parallels to the movie; I keep expecting a black pajama-ed Marlon Brando to face off with a haggard, whiskey-addled Martin Sheen and utter “the horror, the horror” at any moment. The images of the movie slide into the novel’s narrative, though the first image of Kurtz in the novel — “but this — ah — specimen, was impressively bald. The wilderness had patted him on the head, and, behold, it was like a ball — an ivory ball . . . .” — reminds me of Judge Holden in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian (which I compared in an earlier post to an American Heart of Darkness). I’ve come to the spot in the novel when Marlow encounters the harlequin, played so well by Dennis Hopper in movie that now as I read the novel, I picture the figure as Hopper; I hear Hopper’s voice in the narrative.
The novel has become appropriated by the movie. At least for me. Its meaning is now locked inside the narrative of the movie and the movie seems as relevant now — given the apocalyptic tendencies of our current regime and its military adventurism — as it was when released in 1979, six years after America’s pullout from Vietnam.