(Aguirre, The Wrath of God) West Germany, 1973 Director: Werner Herzog
Production: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion; Eastmancolor, 35mm; running time: 93 minutes. Released 1973. Filmed in the jungles of Peru, along the Amazon.
Producer: Werner Herzog; screenplay: Werner Herzog, from the journal of Gaspar De Carvajal; photography: Thomas Mauch; editor: Beate Mainka-Jellinghaus; sound: Herbert Prasch; music: Popol Vuh; special effects: Juvenal Herrera and Miguel Vasquez.
Cast: Klaus Kinski (Don Lope de Aguirre); Helena Rojo (Inez de Atienza); Ruy Guerra (Pedro de Ursua); Del Negro (Caspar de Carvajal); Don Fernando de Guzman (Peter Beding); Cecilia Rivera (Flores de Aguirre); Dany Ades (Perucho); Armando Polanah (Armando); Edward Roland (Okello); Daniel Farafan, Alejandro Chavez, Antonio Marquez, Julio Martinez, and Alejandro Repulles (The Indians); and 270 Indians from the Cooperative of Lauramarca.
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Aguirre der Zorn Gottes is Werner Herzog's hypnotic epic of megalomania and delusional myths. The story concerns the search of Spanish conquistadors for El Dorado in the jungles of South America. The journey is made with the assistance of native slaves over mountains and down an uncharted river. Initiated under the aegis of the Spanish crown, the expedition experiences progressive disintegration. Aguirre, originally named second-in-command, usurps control in pursuit of a golden territory to rule on his own. At the same time, the very instruments and characters sustaining the journey are gradually eliminated. Food, rafts, supplies, and crew members are lost; the landscape changes until there is no land properly speaking to conquer, only river and swamps. In the face of desolation. Aguirre maintains obsessive faith in the reality of his dreams, weaving tales of his future glory.
This journey, with its imaginary goal, is presented in the guise of an historical account. An opening title explains that the events come from a journal kept by a monk during the course of the expedition. The diary provides the text of a voice-over narration which intermittently comments on events. But El Dorado—the goal of the journey, purpose of the expedition, and subject of the diary—is a known fiction, an external dream destined to failure. Moreover, the journal is described as the remaining record of an expedition which disappeared in the depths of the Amazonian jungle; it cannot, in fact, exist. Thus from the outset the film defines its subject as a doomed journey and spurious history. Indeed, history is immediately construed in terms of myth.
As the film posits this mythical history and a goal-less journey, Aguirre transforms its world into a realm of hallucination. Crew members are attacked by arrows and darts from invisible sources. When the monk is struck by an arrow near the end of the film he denies its very being, ''This is no arrow.'' The monk and Okello, one
of the native slaves, also deny the existence of a boat hull (''There is no boat'') which is shown suspended in a tree. In the face of an uncontrollable phenomenal world what counts above all else is the faith one sustains in fictions of one's own making. And it is this quality that defines Aguirre as a hero. The greatest and only believer in the myths of his own creation, he stands as the quintessential heroic figure of history.
With its striking images the film successfully constructs an impression of having entered an unworldly territory. The opening is particularly effective, as the expedition is seen in extreme long shots weaving its way down the mountains through the fog to the banks of the river. The audience is positioned with the expedition throughout the journey. What lies beyond the river on its overgrown banks—a source of beauty, monotony, and danger—remains a mystery throughout the film. The final shot of the film reinforces the tenacity of the journey's confining vision, as the camera circles rapidly around the raft. Littered with dead bodies, overrun with monkeys, the raft is locked into an aimless drift as the hero and self-proclaimed ''great traitor'' asserts his power for the last time: ''I am the wrath of God.''
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