A few decades after the destruction of the Inca empire, a Spanish expedition leaves the mountains of Peru and goes down the Amazon river in search of gold and wealth. Soon, they come across great difficulties and don Lope de Aguirre, a ruthless man who cares only about riches, becomes their leader. But will his quest lead them to "the golden city", or to certain destruction?Written by
Chris Makrozahopoulos <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Werner Herzog claims to have written the screenplay in two and a half days. He wrote a good portion of it while traveling with his soccer team, during games and on bus rides. Following one game, the team was very drunk, and the player seated behind Herzog vomited on his typewriter, ruining many pages of the script. Herzog was unable to salvage the pages, and tossed them out the window. He was also unable to recall what he'd written on them. See more »
At about 1:22, a crew member in a white hat is visible behind Kinski when the conquistadors and Peruvians are pushing away the branches. See more »
The original released version is spoken in German. The actors spoke a variety of languages on set (including English), and the lines had to be re-recorded in post-production in the final language. See more »
Aguirre, Der Zorn Gottes (Lacrime Di Re)
Written by Florian Fricke
Performed by Popol Vuh
Published by Edition Intro Meisel
Courtesy of Gammarock Music See more »
Delusions of Grandeur
My expectations going in to this film were pretty high given its critical acclaim and reputation. Grizzly Man is the only other Herzog film I have seen and it happens to be my current favorite documentary of all time, so needless to say I was quite excited to see another film by him. And I'm happy to report that, although on a first viewing I didn't love it to quite the same degree as Grizzly Man, Aguirre: The Wrath of God definitely did not disappoint.
I was quite interested to see what Herzog's style would be like as a filmmaker working with his own script and actors rather than as a documentarian. Based only on this film, he definitely seems to have a very deliberate, methodical air to his direction. The entire film is very even-toned and it slides along at a steady pace that feels neither fast nor slow. There is definitely an emotional coldness to the film that feels almost Kubrickian. None of the characters are very relatable or likable; quite the contrary in fact - they are consumed by greed, selfishness and delusions of grandeur, our "hero" in particular. Thus, there is an emotional distance between the audience and the characters that is definitely reminiscent of a Kubrick film.
And ironically, despite the fact that I turned to this movie as my first Herzog non-documentary, the film almost feels like a documentary. The way the film is shot with hand-held camera and without any pomp or dramatization makes everything feel so real and authentic. It's very obvious that everything in the film was done for real on location and that is to its advantage as you really feel like you're there with these men rather than just watching a dramatization.
This ultra-realism also works very well in bringing the themes of the film through and making them resonate. The film is clearly about man's misguided and even delusional thirst for power. Aguirre embodies this more than anyone in the film - a man with very clear delusions of grandeur who fancies himself a god despite clear evidence that his expedition is futile and doomed to failure. Klaus Kinski gives a spectacular performance in this role which is even more impressive given his relatively minimal amount of dialogue. He just has such an ominous presence on screen, his face perpetually twisted in a snarl, and he becomes almost hypnotic to watch as the film goes on.
And it isn't just Aguirre. Essentially every Spaniard in the film engages in treachery at least once, including the holy man who utters one of the most searing lines of the film: "You know, my child, for the good of our Lord, the Church was always on the side of the strong." Ouch. These men commit mutiny, elect "emperors", make grand declarations of land ownership, and hold trials with their only audience being the indifferent tangle of vegetation and the raging river. The realism of the film perfectly captures how delusional these men really are as they parade around with their notions of power and fame in the middle of the jungle. Nothing could be further from the truth as they slowly succumb one by one, lost in a foreign and foreboding land. And their impossible goal of finding El Dorado, the imaginary city of gold, is the perfect metaphor for their delusion. A great strength of the film is that the way this theme is executed feels so universal. Herzog isn't just showing us the madness of these particular men in this particular scenario, he's showing us the madness of man in general. He showing us that these illusions of power are just that - illusions. In the grand scheme of the world and the universe, the titles of men are meaningless and transient.
Aguirre: The Wrath of God is a powerful film and an impressive achievement from a filmmaking perspective. However, it is definitely not a movie that is out to entertain or dazzle its audience. It is a film of ideas rather than plot or spectacle. Really the only criticism I can make of the film on a first viewing is that there were some moments of humor which felt a bit out of place given the tone of the film - a man makes a quip after being shot with an arrow or a decapitated head speaks its last word. There is definitely an absurdity to the film and you could argue that these scenes play to that, but I felt these moments perhaps went a bit to far and were too cartoony to mesh well within the film's fabric of realism. Regardless, it's a minor complaint which does very little to sour an otherwise excellent film.
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