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An Apocalyptic “Heart of Darkness”

By Sarah Clarke Stuart,

  Filed under: Lost
  Comments: 28

“The wilderness had found him out early, and had taken on him a terrible vengeance for the fantastic invasion. I think it had whispered to him things about himself which he did not know, things of which he had no conception till he took counsel with this great solitude–and the whisper had proved irresistibly fascinating. It echoed loudly within him because he was hollow at the core” –Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

The corruptibility of the human soul is a central theme of both Heart of Darkness and Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 movie, Apocalypse Now. The latter is a loose interpretation of Conrad’s novella but set in a very different time and place. Both stories prefigure Lost’s concern with the nature of evil and the tension between wilderness and civilization, and isolation and community. Even before Season 6, both the book and the film were explicitly referenced more than once. In “Walkabout,” for instance, Jack asks Kate “”Tell me something, how come every time there’s a hike into the heart of darkness you sign up?” In two other instances, characters are compared to Kurtz (Colonel Kurtz, to be exact), the name of the tragically corrupt and damaged character in both stories. And, as you will see here, the thread of these allusions have been clearly woven back into the mystery.

So is Lost an updated interpretation of Heart of Darkness emerging from yet another medium and genre, the television drama? Probably not. If we’ve learned anything about Lost’s vast array of literary and pop culture references it’s that, taken individually, they act like red herrings, leading us down narrow, winding trails to nowhere; yet they always provide a deeper understanding of the show’s themes and characters. Taken together they help to expand the meaning of the show, which is sometimes a great relief when meaning within the text seems a little thin.

But I find it particularly interesting that a recent promotional trailer featured the famous lines of Conrad’s novel, probably even more familiar to modern viewers as the dialogue from Apocalypse Now: “The horror, the horror.” In fact, the entire promo was centered around this and another line from Heart of Darkness. The short clip shows John Locke, the smoke monster, marching towards some of Widmore’s men with a menacing expression on his face, while the words on the bottom of the screen read “His soul had gone mad. Being alone in the wilderness.” Here is the full passage from the novel: “But his soul was mad. Being alone in the wilderness, it had looked within itself, and, by heavens! I tell you, it had gone mad. I had–for my sins, I suppose–to go through the ordeal of looking into it myself. No eloquence would have been so withering to one’s belief in mankind as his final burst of sincerity. He struggled with himself, too. I saw it,–I heard it. I saw the inconceivable mystery of a soul that knew no restraint, no faith, and no fear, yet struggling blindly with itself.”

Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando), Apocalypse Now

An excerpt of dialogue from the film Apocalypse Now shows an even more explicit study of the struggle between good and evil. Before General Corman sends Willard on his mission to find Colonel Kurtz, a man engaging in horrendous acts of violence against the native people, he warns him of the limits of the human spirit: “There’s conflict in every human heart between the rational and the irrational, between good and evil. The good does not always triumph. Sometimes the dark side overcomes what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature. Every man has got a breaking point….Walter Kurtz has reached his. And very obviously he has gone insane.”

This is one way to look at evil—as insanity, beyond the pale of anything rational. Is this what the Smoke Monster embodies? Pure madness? In light of “Across the Sea” we wonder ‘who is actually crazy here?’ The episode illustrates what we already suspected to be true–that good and evil have no clear boundaries and that “darkness” is not inextricably linked to one character or another. But we do know that Claire, for instance, has been left in the wilderness and reached her “breaking point,” which eventually compelled her to commit heartless acts of violence. Sayid was pushed over the edge by an inability to forgive himself and a great sense of loss after the death of Nadia. His desperation and loneliness nudged his spirit toward insanity and, ultimately, a sort of zombification. Perhaps the Smoke Monster’s plan works this way: the more “mad souls” that he recruits, the stronger he becomes. The apocalypse will come to pass one “infected” spirit at a time.

The promo for next week’s episode, featuring Jim Morrison’s “The End,” is another nod to Apocalypse Now in which the song serves as a compelling backdrop for the film’s most significant scene (no spoilers here but if you want to view this particular scene of the film, a very graphic one containing explicit language, mind you,  click to see a youtube clip) Below are the complete lyrics for this haunting song. Make of it what you will–to be sure, it would be interesting to interpret these words through the lens of Lost, but I’m not up to deciphering Morrison’s cryptic language tonight. However, I do think that some lines are quite intriguing and I italicized those that are most relevant. Let’s also not forget that the final episode is titled “The End”!

“The End”

(Song featured in the 1979 film Apocalypse Now)

This is the end, beautiful friend
This is the end, my only friend
The end of our elaborate plans
The end of everything that stands
The end

No safety or surprise
The end
I’ll never look into your eyes again

Can you picture what will be
So limitless and free
Desperately in need of
some strangers hand
In a desperate land

Lost in a Roman wilderness of pain
And all the children are insane

All the children are insane
Waiting for the summer rain
There’s danger on the edge of town
Ride the king’s highway
Weird scenes inside the goldmine

Ride the highway West baby

Ride the snake
Ride the snake
To the lake
To the lake

The ancient lake baby
The snake is long
Seven miles
Ride the snake

He’s old
And his skin is cold
The west is the best
The west is the best
Get here and we’ll do the rest

The blue bus is calling us

The blue bus is calling us

Driver, where you taking us?

(NOTE: I like how one contributor interprets the “blue bus”: “Maybe this symbolizes a state of insanity, as in “come on, let’s leave our sanity behind and go crazy together”? This would fit into my “‘insanity as darkness and evil” musings above)

The killer awoke before dawn
He put his boots on
He took a face from the ancient gallery
And he walked on down the hall

He went into the room where his sister lived
And then he paid a visit to his brother
And then he walked on down the hall
And he came to a door
And he looked inside
Yes son
I want to kill you
Mother, I want to………….

Come on, baby, take a chance with us
Come on, baby, take a chance with us
Come on, baby, take a chance with us
And meet me at the back of the blue bus

This is the end, beautiful friend
This is the end, my only friend
The end

It hurts to set you free
But you’ll never follow me

The end of laughter and soft lies
The end of nights we tried to die

This is the end

–Jim Morrison

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  • Very well put! Also I forgot about Locke’s drawing of Smokey whe he was a lil boy.

    Damn, this TV show is crazy good!

  • Handsome Smitty

    “It only ends once,” is what Jacob said to his brother. Then, “Everything else is just progress.” While the final word seems to conflict with “the end,” I think it is a clue to Jacob’s tactics more than MIB’s actions to leave the Island. Jacob wants the end – an end to the Island by his replacement sinking it – while MIB wants to escape. It should be clear to all the reason MIB cannot – or should not – be allowed to leave the Island is the havoc he would wreck as Smokie, not so much his evilness.

    Or so it would seem. As usual The Darlton, in easily the worse episode in terms of writing, story and execution (acting), have created more questions than answers.

    • MIB Pants

      Yes, their writing was ‘easily the worse’. Perhaps you could have done more better.

      • Pointless response. Stick to actual criticism of what he is saying and avoid the attacks please.

        • Burley Hurley

          Agreed, Mack. I don’t know what’s up with Lost fans lately, but many of them seem to completely lack social skills. The moment someone expresses a lack of satisfaction with one or more elements of the series, the uber-fans immediately start insulting them. Years ago, fandom wasn’t the way it has recently evolved, and it’s pretty disgusting. Fandom was once a commonality, a brotherhood. Now, it’s nothing but in-fighting, insults and dorkish airs of superiority. I’m glad the show is just about over–not because I want it to end, but because then those who do nothing but attack other fans will finally shut up and go away.

      • Handsome Smitty

        “Worst.” Feel better? Should have just said “shittiest” and been done with it.

  • Beena

    I’m hoping the proverbial “blue bus” is a Dharma van (wink!)

    • sabrina

      Ohhh good one

  • Toots

    The line near the end of the song “Mother, I want to…” was originally intended by Jim Morrison to be “Mother, I want to fuck you” to play into the whole Oedipus complex theme. Everyone else involved with the record knew how out of hand that would be, even for the 60s, and so he changed the last word of the line to an unintelligible scream.

  • Kafuri

    The bodies in the cave originally wore JUMPSUITS, Not the ancient garb as seen in Jacob’s teary farewell.

    • daveisreal

      WHAT?!?! Where did that come from? When has anyone ever said that Adam and Eve were wearing jumpsuits? My only question regarding the bodies is why Jack estimated them to be only 50 years old. This story would put them hundrends of years before 815 arrived, unless there was some crazy time jump we don’t know about.

      • Brandon

        With all the healing properties on the island and everything else, this could cause things to decompose slower which threw off jack’s estimation.

      • Handsome Smitty

        I think all along they were meant to be Bernie and Rose but The Darlton changed it to piss off the fans.

        • SharktacO

          Yeah, Im sure thats how it went down.

      • Naultz

        I thought he said “at least 50 years”

  • Hey everyone,This is my first post,ive never been active in the message rooms,but i read the posts on this site all the time.just wanted to share.

    Anyway,id have to say that i too thought that Rose and Bernard were going to have a little more to do with things,but i guess not.

    as for the jumpsuits,i dont remember that,but either way,i think what they did in that first season was set up some of these things that we’re seeing now.The question is,how much was set up with a story,AND,how much was set up as mysteries that can be munipulated to anything they wanted if theyd ever get that far or when they got to that point they needed a mystery to i making any sense?

  • Jack’s Sidekick

    It was awesome to see a clip of my favorite show, featuring music from my favorite band, The Doors. It makes sense, though there are other Doors songs that can be used here as well.

  • Hot Pocket

    SCS: I think if you are going to quote from any song, you need to give a good solid look at “Clint Eastwood” by the Gorillaz. I ain’t lyin’.

    Yeah, ha ha
    Finally someone let me outa’ my cage
    Now time for me is nothin’ cuz I’m countin’ no age
    Naw I couldn’t be there, now you shouldn’t be scared
    I’m good at repairs, and I’m under each snare
    Intangible, bet you didn’t think so I command you to
    Panoramic view , look I’ll make it all manageable
    Pick and choose , sit and loose, all you different crews
    Chicks and dudes, who you think is really kickin’ tunes
    Picture you gettin down in a picture too, like you lit the fuse
    You think it’s fictional, mystical, maybe
    Spiritual, hero who appears in you to clear your view when you’re too crazy
    Lifeless, to those a definition for what life is
    I ain’t happy, I’ m feelin glad
    I got sunshine in a bag
    I’m useless, but not for long the future is comin’ on

    I ain’t happy, I’ m feelin glad
    I got sunshine in a bag
    I’m useless, but not for long the future (that’s right) is comin’ on
    is comin’ on is comin’ on is comin’ on is comin’ on

    The essence, the basics
    Without it you make it
    Allow me to make this childlike in nature
    Rythm, you have it or you don’t
    That’s a fallacy
    I’m in them
    Every sprouting tree, every child apiece
    Every cloud at sea
    You see with your eyes, I see destruction and demise
    Corruption in the skies (that’s right)
    From this fu**in’ enterprise, now I’m sucked into your lies

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