The wreck of the Costa Concordia is a story straight out of Conrad, starting with "Heart of Darkness" (the darkness of the Congo, the cruelty of colonial oppression, the blackness of men's souls). You've seen this movie transposed to Vietnam: Apocalypse Now.
But there's an even closer parallel: "Lord Jim," the story of one man's cowardice under pressure. When his ship is in danger of breaking up on the high seas, the first mate, Jim, leaps into a lifeboat, leaving hundreds of passengers to fend for themselves.
Peter O'Toole played Jim in the 1965 film version, written and directed by Richard Brooks:
"I've been a so-called coward and a so-called hero and there's not the thickness of a sheet of paper between them. Maybe cowards and heroes are just ordinary men who, for a split second, do something out of the ordinary. That's all."
Jim eventually lives down his past; it's a novel of redemption. On the other hand, at the end of "Heart of Darkness," Kurtz can only murmur, "The horror! the horror!" Is he referring to the Russian passengers aboard the Costa Concordia who bought their way onto lifeboats with wads of cash? Or to Captain Francesco Schettino, piloting his own lifeboat through the waters off Giglio, bashing the heads of refugees swimming for their lives?
The story's not going away soon. Costa Cruises, for its part, is offering a 30 percent discount to Concordia passengers on any future cruise. But that's peanuts compared to the 70 percent discounts that other cruise lines are offering on their departures this winter.