Werner Herzog is quite possibly the most insane director ever. He doesn’t have Gilliam’s wild energy or Lynch’s dream-like madness, but he does have a quiet determination that no sane filmmaker would do. No sane filmmaker would construct a 320-ton steamship that would have to then have to be pulled over a hill for filming like in “Fitzcarraldo” (and no special effects were used for that footage). Herzog, however, can because he’s not only determined to do so, but because his resulting works are nothing short of genius, like with this film, “Aguirre, the Wrath of God”.
For a film with such a lofty title, the film is very quiet and reserved. Judging only by the film itself, one would not expect that most of the crew almost drowned on a raft or that the monkeys used in the end were stolen or that the “gun incident” occurred. The film uses mostly shots of the scenery and the actors just doing stuff, with the main plot serving mostly as interludes for the existential Amazon beauty. The plot, however, uses these long pauses to great effect, since the whole title character is a powder keg that’s just waiting to go off.
Aguirre is the second in command for an expedition to El Dorado, the city of gold. He is power-hungry and wants to rebel. He doesn’t want riches, but the glory of finding El Dorado. He’s a schemer who plays behind the scenes mostly, even letting a fat nobleman as leader with promises of becoming more powerful than the king of Spain. And then everything falls apart.
The film is primarily occupied with rafting down the Amazon. Before the raft is built, we have our mutiny, the fat man becomes leader, and the former leader is a prisoner. Once the raft is built, everyone is just waiting, hoping to eventually find El Dorado. They run into natives and most of the crew dies, but that’s not the focus of the film. The focus is Aguirre, who is so wrapped up in wanting glory that he brings his daughter with him. Herzog kept Kinski tired during filming do that he would not portray Aguirre as a raving lunatic, but a menacing and calculating genius. It keeps the film at a slow and meditational pace.
And then it builds up to the ending. The ending is no bang, but instead the quiet Aguirre, alone on the raft with the corpses of his crew and daughter, snaps. He makes a declaration that shows how insane he was and how much more be has become. It is poetic and understated. The perfect ending to a meditational film.
directed by Werner Herzog
Klaus Kinski, Helena Rojo, Ruy Guerra, Del Negro