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the Wrath of God Aguirre Movie Review

herzog werner ursua farther

1972 – Werner Herzog –

German director Werner Herzog has created a mesmerizing experience with Aguirre: The Wrath of God. The story begins in Peru in 1560 as a group of Spanish conquistadores descend a peak in the Andes. Gonzalo Pizarro (Alejandro Repulles), the half-brother of the man who conquered the Incas, cannot decide whether the density of the jungle will permit the Spaniards to continue their search for the fabled land of gold, El Dorado. Pizarro appoints Don Pedro de Ursua (Ruy Guerra) to take a party of men and scout the territory. When Ursua decides that they can go no farther, his second-in-command, Don Lope de Aguirre (Klaus Kinski), stages a mutiny, makes Ursua a captive, and declares himself and his followers free from Spain.

Most of the remainder of this claustrophobic film takes place on the large raft Aguirre and his men build to continue their search for El Dorado. As they drift farther and farther, the impassive jungle surrounds them and darts shot from natives in the thickets begin to reduce their ranks. The cramped conditions, lack of food, growing fevers, and unexpected calamities further strain their nerves and shrink their numbers. Aguirre becomes more maniacal, as well. At one stop along the river, he is giving instructions when he overhears the whispering of two men planning a revolt. One confides to the other that if they abandon Aguirre they will still be able to return safely to their company by retracing the bends in the river. As he numbers them off on his fingers (“eight … nine”), one of Aguirre's men beheads him from behind with a machete. The camera swish pans to the man's severed head in the brush where its dying mouth completes the sentence: “Ten.”

Aguirre follows this action with his great speech of madness. In Kinski's slithering gait and lizard-like stare, it becomes the character's defining moment: “I am the great traitor. There can be none greater. Anyone considering desertion will be cut into 198 pieces. Those pieces will be stamped on until what is left can only be used to paint walls. Whoever takes one grain of corn or one drop of water too much will be imprisoned 155 years. If I want the birds to drop dead from the trees, then the birds will drop dead from the trees. I am the Wrath of God. The earth I walk upon sees me and quakes. Who follows me and the river will win untold riches. But whoever deserts ….” By now, he doesn't have to finish his sentence.

Herzog gives the film and his hero a dark beauty. The simple, parable-like nature of the plot resonates on a number of mythic levels: as an example of hubris, as a case study of greed, as a comment on the supposedly civilizing impulses of European countries, even as a variation on Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. The final shot of a strutting Aguirre, the last survivor of a raft now teeming with tiny chattering monkeys, is an indelible image of the costs of obsession.

Cast: Klaus Kinski (Don Lope de Aguirre), Alejandro Repulles (Gonzalo Pizarro), Cecilia Rivera (Flores), Helena Rojo (Inez), Edward Roland (Okello), Dan Ades (Perucho), Peter Berling (Don Fernando de Guzman), Ruy Guerra (Don Pedro de Ursua), Del Negro (Brother Gaspar de Carvajal), Armando Polanha (Armando), Screenwriter: Werner Herzog Cinematographer: Thomas Mauch Composer: Popol Vuh Producer: Werner Herzog for Werner Herzog Filmproduktion Running Time: 90 minutes Format: VHS Awards: National Society of Film Critics Awards, 1977: Cinematography.

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