Question: In the "Meeting Mr. Kurtz" chapter of Adam Hochschild's King Leopold's Ghost, he writes that of the three movie versions of the book Heart of Darkness, two weren't even set in Africa. He notes Apocalypse Now as one and I e-mailed him asking whether Werner Herzog's excellent Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972) was the other. He said it wasn't but couldn't remember the other title, though he said it was set in the time of the Spanish Civil War. Do you know what Hochschild was referring to?


Answer: I don't know and my research didn't turn up what I would call a definitive answer. But I think it might be Manuel Gutiérrez Aragón's El Corazón del Bosque (1979), which is set 10 years after the Spanish Civil War. It revolves around a young man who sets out on a journey deep into the heavily forested Spanish hills in search of a legendary loyalist named El Andarin. El Andarin has so deteriorated during his sojourn in the wild that his beastlike nature has come to the forefront, and the young man hunts him down. I have to say that I haven't seen it, but I've run across some academic writing referring both to it and to Heart of Darkness.

I also ran across references to a Canadian film called Windigo (1994), starring and directed by Robert Morin, in which a group of white Canadian politicians charters a battered tugboat called the Pickle and travels into northern Quebec to quell an effort by members of the native Aki nation — stirred up by a French Canadian activist — to reclaim their ancestral lands. Reviews all allude to the obvious debt it owes Heart of Darkness by way of Apocalypse Now (1979).

Given the inherently cinematic qualities of Joseph Conrad's 1899 novel, inspired by his own stint as a riverboat captain in the then-Belgian Congo, it's amazing to me that there has been only one straightforward adaptation, the made-for-TV movie Heart of Darkness (1994); it was directed by Nicolas Roeg and stars John Malkovich as Kurtz and Tim Roth as Marlowe (the character Francis Ford Coppola renamed Willard). Orson Welles legendarily tried to get a version of Heart of Darkness off the ground when he first went to Hollywood; he'd already done a radio adaptation for the Mercury Theater of the Air and it was mentioned by title in the contract he signed with RKO. Welles conceived Heart of Darkness as an antifascist allegory and wanted to shoot the entire film from Marlowe's point of view, but he eventually abandoned the idea in favor of Citizen Kane (1941). Some film historians have dubbed his Heart of Darkness the greatest film never made.