Apocalypse Now & Heart of Darkness: Relation of Film to Text

The relationship between Apocalypse Now and Heart of Darkness has a complex history. John Milius who wrote the original script of Apocalypse Now was the one who first selected elements from the novella to incorporate into his script.

While Milius had only a passing interest in Conrad's story, it's clear from reading Coppola's 1975 rewriting of the script, that Coppola was deeply immersed in Heart of Darkness. He made major additions of elements from the text, changes which reveal a very intimate knowledge of the novella.

What is even more intriguing is that when Coppola came to shooting the film, he made even more radical changes in which he dropped many of the elements of Heart of Darkness he had added to the '75 Script, but then added some new elements, which were based on his continuing meditation on the Conrad text.

There is also a more subtle relationship between the film and the text than just the obvious elements. I believe that Coppola is influenced by Conrad's narrative strategies for creating dramatic suspense in the journey to encounter Kurtz and in the creation of the characters of Colonel Kurtz and of Willard. (See: Kurtz's Dossier and the Art of Narrative and Apocalypse Now: The End of the River. )

Here is a brief history of the development of Apocalypse Now from Milius' original script to the film.

John Milius's Apocalypse Now & Heart of Darkness

Coppola's '75 Script

Apocalypse Now '79