Joseph Conrad



Conrad was born in Russian controlled Poland and named Teodor Konrad Nalecz Korzeniowski.  He was the son of a Polish patriot who was exiled to Russia and who died when his son was 12.  Conrad was brought up by his material uncle and at the age of 15 declared that he wanted to be a seaman.  At age 17 they allowed him to follow his desire and for the next 20 years he was a seaman who worked his way up to becoming a ship's master.  He sailed on English ships and taught himself English.  He sailed to the Orient and also took a steamboat up the Congo River in 1890.  From this experience he wrote HEART OF DARKNESS.  This experience produced severe illness and permanently haunted his imagination.  In 1890 the Congo was virtually the personal property of Leopold II, king of the Belgians, who made a fortune out of it while inflicting appalling abuses upon the native population.  This exploitation shocked Conrad and profoundly changed his view of the moral basis of all exploring and trading in newly discovered countries.


In 1896 he settled in London and married an English girl and became an English novelist with a great mastery of English prose---but spoke with a thick accent.


Three important films have been made dealing with Heart of Darkness.  The first of these is APOCALYPSE NOW (1979), which is Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, and the second is Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse (1991), which is based largely on original footage shot and directed by Coppola's wife Eleanor and examines what went on during the filming of Apocalypse Now.  This award winning documentary is excellent.  Apocalypse Now does not follow the Conrad novel in any precise manner but was inspired by Conrad's novel and uses similar scenes and even some of the language from the original novel.


Apocalypse Now is an epic vision of the Vietnam War starring Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, and Marlon Brando with supporting roles by Harrison Ford, Frederic Forrest, Scott Glenn, Dennis  Hopper,  and Larry Fishburne among others.  Both Sheen and Coppola suffered emotional breakdowns during the prolonged filming.  It won academy awards for Best Cinematography and Best Sound as well as being nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Picture, and Best Supporting Actor (Duvall).  It also won numerous other awards.


The third film related to the novel is Heart of Darkness (1993) which closely follows the original novel.  This version stars Tim Roth and John Malkovich and was directed by Nicolas Roeg.  (Note: although the audience is led to believe you are in the Congo, the film was shot in Belize.)


One of the messages of the book and all the films related to it is that you can only push a human being so far before something snaps.