Classics of Cinema – Aguirre, the Wrath of God

Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972)

Written and Directed by: Werner Herzog

The film begins with a prologue:

“After the conquest and plundering of the Inca Empire by Spain the Indians invented the legend of El Dorado a land of gold located in the swamps of the Amazon headwaters. A large expedition of Spanish adventurers, led by Gonzalo Pizarro set off from the Peruvian highlands in late 1560. The only document to survive from this lost expedition is the diary of the monk Gaspar de Carvajal.”

Is it a tale of greed, hunger for gold and power or is it one man’s descent into madness. Or is madness inevitable in such a pursuit.

A state in which he embodies a wrath, a Wrath of God. Who is insane? The actions of the supreme or the one who go insane are the ones pretending to be a manifestation of His actions.

The opening images are surreal and at first seem real and believable. The Spanish adventurers travelling through a mountain, rising and rising, the masters in relief while the slaves in slavery, they walk on a mountain and somewhere down the timeline they find a river, which never leaves them. It never ends, it is never-ending. The point of its convergence with the sea is still very far, the lives end for they have to end. They are weak and hungry but the one insane has freed himself from any such desires, insanity is his only hunger and his only diet. It engulfs the people part of expedition, for the voiceless are bound to be engulfed by this mad world. The spineless cannot stand and hence they get crushed by madness.

How does it affects me?

Aguirre German Poster
German Poster

This film is a demanding watch. It tests your blending capacity. The events and the images flow on their own speed, the music is minimal because the nature is the music, the natural sounds, water gushing down the river, birds chirping, horses neighing, men breathing are the sounds of nature.

Some history that I never knew of, never heard of, Spain, the Inca Empire, El Dorado – events that are not part of a popular theme. However the association of men with these times remains characterized by the same demands and passions that men of today make – power and money.

Ignoring every possible failure staring right into your eyes from ahead and riding on a wave of impractical optimism are the traits of Aguirre. His descent into madness is gradual. When the people around him become weak and hungry because of his ruthlessness and single-mindedness he still reasons the existence of his belief or his only belief – capturing and ruling El Dorado.

He cannot stand because he cannot find a surface strong enough to bear his weight.


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