Aguirre, The Wrath of God

Dir: Werner Herzog. 1973. Starring: Klaus Kinksi. German. Foreign/Cult.
Aguirre, The Wrath of God

Dense tropical jungle, violent river rapids, hostile natives, hundreds of screaming monkeys, and one man's decent into megalomania and madness. Aguirre, The Wrath of God, is one of Herzog's most hallucinatory and disturbing films. Filmed in the remote Peruvian rainforest Aguirre, The Wrath of God was Herzog's first collaboration with the notoriously volatile actor Klaus Kinski.

With Kinski, Herzog created his greatest and most anarchic rebel of them all. Aguirre is a Spanish Conquistador who travels down the Amazon River in search of the lost city of gold, El Dorado. Over the course of the film, Aguirre assumes command of the expedition by murdering and manipulating his fellow conquistadors. As they drift further and further down the river, Aguirre descends further into madness eventually becoming obsessed with power and claiming himself the 'Wrath of God'. It's Aguirre's descent into madness and megalomania that propels his obsessions with power and domination to reaching god-like illusion.

Every time I watch this film I am blown away by its visual landscapes, which are among Herzog's most dreamlike and visionary. The film was shot on the Urubamba River in the tropical jungles of Peru. As Aguirre and his men descend from the Peruvian mountains into the deep labyrinth of the jungle, Herzog sets the stage for the way he will portray the landscape throughout the rest of the film. The brown violent rapids push and drag Aguirre and his men further down the river. The ever-present sun beats down upon them, creating deceiving mirages, and the thick jungle acts as a blanket, masking any chance of escape from the slow menacing ebb of the endless river they are trapped on. It is Herzog's meticulous collaboration with long time cinematographer Thomas Mauch that makes the visuals in this film so stunning and hypnotic.

Not well received when it was first released in 1973, Aguirre, The Wrath of God, has come to be regarded as one of the crowing achievements of the German New Wave. I highly recommend this film, which has been released on Anchor Bay DVD. Make sure you listen to Herzog's commentary on the DVD to hear his first hand accounts of his legendary on-set battles with Kinski that eventually culminated in him threatening Kinski's life with a rifle! This film is truly one of a kind. (DVD: Anchor Bay)

Posted by:
Eric Kench
Jun 4, 2008 7:45pm
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