Aguirre, the Wrath of God


Once seen, never forgotten, this hallucinatory epic of unhinged Spanish conquistadors lost in the Amazon is the definitive Werner Herzog expedition to the edge.

“Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God is one of the great haunting visions of the cinema.” – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

It was also the first of his five fiery collaborations with the unpredictable force-of-nature known as Klaus Kinski. Drawing on a number of historical accounts, Aguirre, the Wrath of God traces the escalating paranoia and grandiose delusions of the mutinous, power-hungry Spanish military leader Lope de Aguirre (Kinski, in perhaps his maddest, most delightfully demonic performance) as he and his captive, ever-diminishing crew raft down an Amazonian river in a doomed, increasingly surreal search for El Dorado, the legendary city of gold. From its gorgeous opening images of conquistadors snaking their way through the jungle, propelled by the haunting music score by Popol Vuh, to its bizarre and unforgettable final scene, Herzog’s crazed epic achieves a rare, operatic delirium, made all the more compelling by its jolts of unexpected black humor (“Spears are getting longer this year,” notes one skewered soldier). A classic example of art imitating life, the insanity of the journey depicted in the film was mirrored in the borderline sanity of filmmaker and scantily resourced crew making a film in the same jungle location. As the untested rafts drift and hurtle down the mighty river, it’s clear that the extreme dangers and discomfits depicted are not being faked. Legend has it that the psychic warfare on screen was just as real: Herzog and Kinski each threatened to kill the other before filming reached its conclusion with the staggering final scene. (Dir. by Werner Herzog, 1972, Germany, in German/Quechua/Spanish with subtitles, 93 mins., Not Rated)