Aguirre, the Wrath of God (German: Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes) is a 1972 West German adventure film written and directed by Werner Herzog. Klaus Kinski stars in the title role. The soundtrack was composed and performed by German progressive/Krautrock band Popol Vuh. The story follows the travels of Spanish soldier Lope de Aguirre, who leads a group of conquistadores down the Amazon River in South America in search of the legendary city of gold, El Dorado. Using a minimalist story and dialogue, the film creates a vision of madness and folly, counterpointed by the lush but unforgiving Amazonian jungle. Although based loosely on what is known of the historical figure of Aguirre, the film's story line is, as Herzog acknowledged years after the film's release, a work of imagination. Some of the people and situations may have been inspired by Gaspar de Carvajal's account of an earlier Amazonian expedition, although Carvajal was not on the historical voyage represented in the film. Other accounts state that the expedition went into the jungles but never returned to civilization. Aguirre was the first of five collaborations between Herzog and the volatile Kinski.
It’s late. It’s dark. The only light falling on your face is comes from a cinema screen in front of you. The image is that of jungle. You almost nod off. Five minutes later, you take a long hard look at the screen and keep looking for about a minute. It’s still jungle. After about half an hour of this, you realize that Aguirre, the Wrath of God will be jungle. It will always be jungle. It will be jungle for two irreplaceable hours of your life.
That’s about the time you should leave the theatre.
I didn’t leave the theatre. I sat there… and sat there… and sat some more. Dutiful film critic as I am, I did not nod off. I did not give up. I perambulated through, watching this film go by and praying that the reels would burn.
In case you haven’t already gathered this simple fact by the above three paragraphs, this film was really, really, boring. This film was the kind of boring that makes you attempt to learn German from the subtitles. This film was the kind of boring that makes you attempt to count the number of fake foley-artist’s birdcalls you hear in the two hours that this film trudges through.
Someone tried to explain to me after I had sat through this film, which I sincerely believe to be a fair representation of the phrase ‘boring you to death,’ that so-called cinematic genius Werner Herzog’s use of the slow pace of the film was in some way representative of the fact that, while on a raft in the Amazon for months on end, there is nothing to do. To this, I say the following: Look, Mr. Herzog, I have no problem with deeper meaning and symbolism in film as long as said deeper meaning and symbolism doesn’t make me search for the nearest Smith & Wesson.
Since, in order for you to be truly guilt free about not watching the movie or about reading something else so you don’t have to listen to me complain about the utter waste of two hours, I suppose I should summarize the plot for you. Aguirre (Klaus Kinski) is a generally psychotic and power-hungry man who seeks to claim the mythical land of Elderado for himself. Since he’s on an expedition with a large group of people, and since a smaller group of people are dispatched to do some such idiotic task, he has no problem shooting the leader of the smaller group and setting up a puppet king. With the puppet king, they embark on a trip down the Amazon.
They encounter cannibals, and some people die. Some people plot defection, and they die. By the American philosophy that death is a device of furthering plot, Aguirre should have been an easy-to-watch movie. It wasn’t. It was long, boring, and exceedingly messy. Herzog brings up at least ten plot twists that end up unresolved. He brings up issues that are never talked about. Put simply, he does not do his job.
The result of Herzog’s general laziness is a product that you wish would end but that doesn’t. It drags its feet until its feet are bleeding stumps. Save yourself.
Aka Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes.