Directed by: Werner Herzog
Written by: Werner Herzog
Starring: Klaus Kinski, Helena Rojo, Ruy Guerra, Del Negro, Peter Berling
Colonialism has always been a search for power disguised as the discovery of a new world but, educators rarely teach that reality. Aguirre, the Wrath of God exhibits that true, evil intention when gathering a group of conquistadors as they traverse the Andes mountains.
This film follows Aguirre (Klaus Kinski) and his struggle to truly take charge of an expedition. He travels with a group of Spanish conquistadors and in his eyes, they do everything incorrectly. From the plan of attack to transportation, all leadership he’s tasked to follow get in the way of what he truly desires. Aguirre believes that control should be bestowed upon him as God had intended. Mix that ambition with violence and you get a harrowing film about the dangers of greed and what the wrath of God truly can be.
The presentation of the film truly becomes as important as the story itself. Werner Herzog, a German, much like Aguirre directed this feature film. The film uses German as its primary language as Aguirre must work with a bunch of Spanish conquistadors. Aguirre, the Wrath of God looks at the sequence of events from a very German lens and Herzog obviously presents Aguirre as the true villain in this story despite the many evils of the Spanish in Central and South America. Only Herzog can say the true idea behind this process, but when thinking about the nations that “discovered” many of the Americas, Germany usually does not jump out as the first response amongst the European elite. Was Herzog trying to show the contribution by the German people to the hideous practice of colonialism? I do not have the answer, but it surely becomes something to ponder.
Visually, this film attempts to show the perilous conditions at every turn for these conquistadors. Gorgeously shot to show the environment, which remains unclear to them as they traverse a land where they have much to learn. The beauty comes from the detailed look of the cinematography and how it captures nature. Something as simple as the leaves looked gorgeous and conditions appeared as rugged as one would think. It displays the pure desperation these characters feel while traveling even if the area around them looks beautiful. An incredible juxtaposition, as it looks like paradise but the characters feel like they just entered one of the rings of hell.
Additionally, the film comments on the need for hierarchy to always exist with humanity, even when “discovering a new world.” A belief system hardwired into our minds that in order to make decisions, there must be one person in charge. It shows itself in the systems of their time where kings and queens made decisions on behalf of entire nations and empires. Finding who that person in charge will be creates the constant struggle happening in the film. When beginning the expedition, one particular person receives the charge by Gonzalo Pizarro and from that instant, Aguirre sets on a path to overtake that role. He has no shame in getting to that end result, which includes sabotage, propping up his own leader, and when they don’t work, just murder them. Aguirre serves a cautionary tale of the worst of humanity, which comes from being power-hungry, overly ambitious, and willing to harm others for their own vanity. Klaus Kinski does so well to portray that kind of character. The evil can be seen in his eyes whenever he talks and from the very beginning, the audience quickly understands that they should not trust him just by his looks. It exhibits incredible acting to exude that kind of evil with every bit of venom he spews, as he speaks of his divine rights.
Ultimately, this film becomes a brutal watch, especially when all of the events in the plot transpire, but its content is vital because of the way it shows the true evil of colonialism and the lengths someone like Aguirre would go towards to simply lead an expedition. It represents being power-hungry at its worst. The story holds nothing back as it shows the true ideas behind the decisions of these men. I did have issues with the pacing of the film, which kept me from loving it but Aguirre, the Wrath of God tells an ever-timely tale and succeeds from its execution to its direction.