Aguirre, the Wrath of God

Poster
1972
Werner Herzog

10/10

See the film that helped inspire “Apocalypse Now.” For anybody who doesn’t know who Werner Herzog is, or actor Klaus Kinski — and as a movie fan you should be at least passingly acquainted with them — this film is the perfect introduction. “Fitzcarraldo” or “Nosferatu the Vampire” would be other candidates, but “Aguirre” is by far my favorite of their collaborations.

Just look at the poster. How can you see it and not want to see this film? I mean, does Klaus Kinski not look like one of the most insane motherfuckers you have ever seen? Look at the way his eyes just BUG OUT of his head! That’s not normal! That is something that only Klaus Kinski can do convincingly! Granted, he is playing an insane person in the film. But still, as the stories go he was not far off from Aguirre in real life, which is why Herzog insisted that he play this part in the first place (and later tolerated him even though he flipped out practically every other day on the shoot).

The story follows Aguirre on a 16th century Spanish expedition to the Peruvian Amazon, where they are searching for El Dorado. As they get farther into the Amazon, Aguirre slowly goes insane. That’s about it. Oh, it was shot on location in Peru. And the actors playing Spaniards speak German that is dubbed into English. That’s good to know as well.

Doesn’t sound very exciting, does it? Except I guarantee you that IT’S AWESOME. Herzog went for a minimalist approach, eschewing a lot of dialogue and plot. He essentially just unleashed a nearly-insane, armor-clad Kinski on the Amazon and watched him go with a camera running. If that doesn’t sound fascinating to you, I have some spare adderall you might be interested in.

But enough with the sarcasm, I want to speak to you in earnest. Kinski turns over one of the greatest acting performances in the history of cinema, and Herzog’s laissez faire approach fits the material perfectly. Every glare out of Kinski’s eye is magnified, every facial twitch isolated, and you are able to watch unimpeded a true genius (self-proclaimed and otherwise) at work. He gives Aguirre this strange limp that just reinforces the entire off-kiltered-ness of his persona. It is eery and brilliant and magnificent at the same time. The gradual increase in his instability creates a slow build-up of tension that only boils over in a finale involving hundreds of monkeys. Did I forget to mention that there were a shit ton of monkeys? Dammit, I knew I forgot something.

For viewers unused to alternative cine, Herzog’s minimalist style could get a little taxing at times. But at 100 minutes the movie is never boring. In summary, my lord do you need to see this movie!

27 March 2010

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