Aguirre, the Wrath of God (Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes) Reviews
The story of Spaniards in search of the lost city of gold El Dorado in the Amazon.
The film focuses on the 2nd in Charge commander who descents into madness & obsession & affects the whole group. Low Key film that is an interesting watch despite its unpredictable plot.
When I looked at a summary of what this film would be about, I assumed that it was going to be a fast-paced action film. However, what I got was something entirely different. This film felt unique compared to other survival films, and I don't think that many other directors would be able to make it as good as good as Werner Herzog did. This is a kind of a film which gets more mysterious the more I think about it.
In 1560, hundreds of Spanish conquistadors leave their home in the Andes mountains in search of the fabled country of El Dorado. Running low on supplies, 40 men are ordered to scout ahead by a raft on a river. If they don't return in one week, they will be considered lost, and everyone else will return without them. However, their expedition proves to be more and more dangerous as the days go by.
As I said above, I was expecting something completely different. I was expecting a typical fast paced action/survival film. Instead, this movie had very few battle scenes. Most of the action showed a character hit by an arrow or die off-screen. We sometimes saw glimpses of Indians or heard gunfire in the distance, but every time a character was killed by the Indians, the enemy was always unseen. I feel like Herzog's reason for filming the action like this was to show how vulnerable the Spaniards were. It was almost like he was letting the audience know that they stood no chance against the Indians. This aspect also applies to other areas. For instance, after a group of people become untrusting of their leader Guzman, he is found mysteriously dead moments later. Another great scene is when one of the characters walks off into the jungle never to be seen again. However, the best use of this aspect involves the large group of people who waited for the 40 men to come back. Since they were never seen again in the film, it raised the possibility that they might be either struggling with the Indians or are already dead. I'd say that despite the exception of a single scene and a single line of dialogue, the action was perfect.
The character of Aguirre is hard to describe. The reason I say this is because it's hard for me to decide whether he was meant to be a protagonist, an anti-hero, or a villain. If I had to choose, I'd say that he falls somewhere in the middle of being an anti-hero and a villain. He seemed like a character who cared about nothing more other than having everything done the way he wants and discovering El Dorado at all costs no matter how much of his men are still alive. He didn't seem to care about the fate of his crew (except for maybe his daughter). If any of his men would try to defy him, he wouldn't hesitate to end their life. A great plot point that given us insight to how mysterious Aguirre's character is was how he wanted Ursua to die. After Ursua is sentenced to death, the leader of the group (Guzman) prevents him from dying (an action which clearly infuriates Aguirre). After Guzman's mysteriously killed off, however, there's nothing stopping Aguirre from executing the man. With that being said, I feel like Aguirre killed Guzman, because that way, he'd be able to kill Ursua without anyone stopping him. Guzman's death seemed convenient for Aguirre. Aguirre is definitely one of the more memorable movie characters I've seen in a while.
The visuals in this movie are also worth noting. They feel both awe-inspiring and unsettling. A great example of its visuals is the intro to the film. It does a great job introducing us to the environment the film takes place in. When the film starts off, we see hundreds of men and women marching down narrow paths in the mountains. The scope of this shot is amazing as it lets the audience know hoe insignificant the men are compared to the terrain they're walking across. It also gives you a feeling that the Spaniards and the Indians will encounter numerous hardships during their expedition. Another scene that has a similar feel to the intro is when we see the rafts floating down heavy rapids in the river. Both of these scenes show that Herzog isn't afraid of risking his crew's life just to make a film.
There are also a few haunting visual set pieces. One of these scenes occur near the end when the Spaniards see a ship up in the trees. All of them react differently to it. One person thinks that it's a hallucination while another person thinks that it's real. Aguirre tells his crew to bring the ship down so they can use it to sail to the Atlantic, but one member of Aguirre's crew immediately refuses to do so - this is one of the only times in the film where a character disobeys Aguirre. This is a disturbing scene as it shows us how weak the mental state is of the remaining crew members. Another memorable scene is the ending where monkeys overrun the raft. That scene shows how Aguirre has been conquered by nature.
In conclusion, I was pleasantly surprised with this film as it turned out to be completely different than how I imagined it would be. It's a brilliant film. It may not quite reach perfection, but it's still an outstanding and a unique film. The action scenes feel unsettling, Aguirre was a memorable villain, and the visuals evoked different moods from me. I'll be sure to keep an eye out for Herzog in the future.