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Films >> Aguirre: The Wrath of God (Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes) (1972) >>

1) At the heart of all this is my simple incredulity that someone like Lope de Aguirre could have existed. (Bart L. Lewis 3)

2) There was one aspect of the film that really intrigued me, and that was the occasional breaking of the fourth wall. There were about three or four scenes in which characters looked directly into the camera, and sometimes even spoke to the camera. The first time this happened was at the beginning of the film as those on the conquest trekked down the mountain, but I thought it was a mistake. However, it happened again, specifically in the scene prior to the beheading, Aguirre breaks the fourth wall and speaks to the camera. I found this to be an interesting choice, and I can't figure out why Herzog would chose to make this directorial decision. (Jaclyn Ulman, Lehigh University)

3) Werner Herzog's Aguirre, the Wrath of God is one of the great haunting visions of the cinema. (Roger Ebert)

4) And gold is, like another golden calf, worshiped by them as a god; for they come without intermission and without thought, across the sea, to toil and danger, in order to get it. May it please God that it not be for their damnation. (Fray Toribo of Benevento, qtd by Bandelier 30)

5) For some reason I found this movie to be oddly relaxing. Perhaps it is because I've had very few z's this week and half of the movie consists of prolonged shots of whatever. Once the ambient music starts kicking in, I'm a conquistador of sleep. (Adam Kaufman, Lehigh University)

6) When I asked why this prince or chief or king was called dorado, the Spaniards who had been in Quito and had now come to San Domingo (of whom there were more than ten here) answered, that, according to what had been heard from the Indians concerning that great lord or prince, he went about constantly covered with fine powdered gold, because he considered that kind of covering more beautiful and noble than any ornaments of beaten or pressed gold. The other princes and chiefs were accustomed to adorn themselves with the same, but their decorations seemed to him to be more common and meaner than that of the other, who put his on fresh every morning and washed it off in the evening. . . . The Indians further represent that this cacique, or king, is very rich and a great prince, and anoints himself every morning with a gum or fragrant liquid, on which the powdered gold is sprinkled and fixed, so that he resembles from sole to crown a brilliant piece of artfully shaped gold. (Juan de Castellanos, qtd in Bandelier 57)

7) In this cruise of Aguirre all that is wildest, most romantic, most desperate, most appalling in the annals of the Spanish enterprise seems to culminate in one wild orgie of madness and blood. (Clements Markham, in Bollaert i)

8) This is an account of Lope Aguirre, conquistador, traitor and murderer. Aguirre has no defenders. He made his way by treachery and violence. He was unprincipled, arrogant and greedy. He was without honor or mercy and he was never content. Life for him was a search for riches and power, a search that sent him down the Amazon from Peru to the Atlantic, that made of him a flamboyant, futile rebel against his king. He became Aguirre, El Peregrino, The Wanderer. And before the wandering was through he had earned for himself one of the darkest pages in the long dark book of human history. The best men say of Lope Aguirre is that he may have been mad. (Walker Lowry, preface)

9) Aguirre is a collage of fact and fiction. Herzog merged two expeditions into one. (Victoria M. Stiles 162)

10) Among his last acts was to call his daughter Elvira to his side and stab her to death, telling her that this fate was preferable to living a life of infamy as the child of a traitor and becoming the sexual victim of whichever soldier claimed her after her father and protector was gone. He then faced the arquebus balls of the encircling soldiers, two of which brought him down. His corpse was beheaded and quartered, and parts were put on public display or given to towns that his party had passed through as trophies of their involvement in the affair. (Thomas Holloway 36)

11) The premise is scary. The tone is absurd. The mood, cued by the lush drone of Popol Vuh's score, is languorous, even trippy. The drama ends in a fever of denial -- someone hallucinates a boat in a tree, someone else dies from a nonexistent arrow. Alone with corpses and monkeys on a raft that drifts in circles as it is circled by the camera, Aguirre is the last man standing -- ranting still, amid the illusion of brute existence. (J. Hoberman)

12) Herzog has an eye for the grotesque and for irony. . . . By putting one dead rebel into the leadership of the expedition, giving the other . . . the role of historian; and using the throne of a third (Cortes) to represent Aguirre's ultimate ambition, Herzog expresses his contempt for this and other imperialistic undertakings. (Victoria M. Stiles 163)

13) Through this blond Nordic knight, Herzog alludes to a much earlier age of expansionism: to medieval Germany with the religious imperialism of the Crusades and the Teutonic Knights, and also . . . the rebirth of the Nordic stereotype with Hitler's attempts at imperialist conquest. Herzog's main character is more than a conquistador of one particular century; he is the embodiment of imperialism as such. (Victoria M. Stiles 164)

14) The film ultimately affirms the importance of memory and the need to produce historical narratives. (Thomas P. Waldemer 42)

15) Late in the film, unmotivated (and unsuspected) by character glance, the narration of Aguirre, the Wrath of God directs its attention to a shot of the calm river reflecting the (gold) light of the sun. In this image, mysteriously but undeniably, nature, sun, gold, and the quest are synthesized. Only Werner Herzog would dare show us El Dorado in a travelogue image. (Dana Benelli 101)

16) [The real] Aguirre is initially portrayed as a popular man, with a great ability to use his cunning, gift with words, and power to persuade, to influence his discontented companions. But his character changes radically immediately after he takes power, and his qualities become reduced to one alone: cruelty. From then on, the action is a constant reflection of this trait, as he subjects his men to arbitrary killing, torture and every kind of abuse and punishment. In the final stage, and as a result of the sheer accumulation of the horrors he inflicts on everyone, the apparently demented Aguirre comes to be known as “Aguirre the madman.” (Beatriz Pastor Bodmer 191)

17) Herzog's filmic message reflects his basically humanistic vision. His criticism of civilization with its values of wealth, power and fame became apparent here. (Victoria M. Stiles 166)

18) Aguirre is a "history" rather than merely a "costume" drama in the same sense that Shakespeare's Richard III is a "history." Like Shakespeare, Herzog begins with chronicle accounts of events and personages, but then reshapes and embroiders upon these historical chronicles, at once providing answers and revealing more puzzling questions, not only turning "history" into "art" (a tenuous distinction in any case), but meditating upon the makers and the making of history. (Gregory Waller 58)

19) Yet Aguirre's affirmation of his own power cannot be separated from the visual context Herzog provides for this speech. Unlike Hitler in Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will, for example, whose words echo out onto a world that unmistakably reflects the triumph of his will, Aguirre grasps a burned treetrunk in a deserted cannibal village and delivers this speech to handful of terrified and reluctant soldiers, while birds sing and the jungle lurks in the background undisturbed. (Gregory Waller 62)

20) Aguirre was representative of the resentful late arrivals among the rank and file of the conquistador generation; he toiled for years and risked his life with little compensation and found himself forsaken in an ill-fated expedition during which the situation deteriorated from bad to worse to desperate. Survival required that someone take charge, despite the eventual reckoning of jurists, bureaucrats, and, more important, the judgment of God. Aguirre did, and paid the price. (Thomas Holloway 38)

21) What Herzog sees in the story, I think, is what he finds in many of his films: Men haunted by a vision of great achievement, who commit the sin of pride by daring to reach for it, and are crushed by an implacable universe. (Roger Ebert)

22) What Herzog asks from the viewer is a reexamination of the definition of madness and evil. In Herzog’s mind, seeming madmen and outsiders may actually be closer to the reality of life than the rest of us while remaining as fully and frailly human as anyone. (Ronald Fritze 85)

23) The critical reassessment of the figure of Lope de Aguirre is relevant, however, from both a historical and a literary point of view. He is important historically because he led an episode that had major political and ideological significance, whose outcome is relevant to the process of defining a Spanish American identity. From a literary perspective, his significance comes first of all from a series of elements that tie his perception and representation of the realities of the conquest to ascertain aspects of baroque thinking and aesthetics which, in many ways, his discourse anticipates; and second, from the lasting influence of his image on a number of literary works in Spain and Spanish America. (Beatriz Pastor Bodmer 194)

24) It may be argued that the story, the rise and ultimate defeat of a power-thirsty dictator with a vision of founding a pure superior race, is not about the conquest of South America at all, but a metaphor for the ever-present spectre of Hitler’s rise to power, which was at the time, and continues to be one of the central preoccupations of German cultural production. (Gundula Sharman 101-2)

25) Half of the time Aguirre was brooding, and the other half of the time he was in the throes of some random outburst of anger. For example, he yells at the horse on the raft to get out of his way, when there is clearly no place for the horse to go besides in the water. Which brings me to the fact that when that horse was shoved off the raft into the water and left stranded on the jungle, I realized that the closest thing I could empathize with was said horse. Especially when the title character, presumably the one whom we are supposed to be identifying with, speaks his last lines of dialogue face-to-face with a monkey. (Courtney Brown, Lehigh University)

26) Herzog does not hurry their journey, or fill it with artificial episodes of suspense and action. What we feel above all is the immensity of the river and the surrounding forest -- which offers no shore to stand on because the waters have risen and flooded it. (Roger Ebert)

27) Traditionally, there have been two main lines of interpretation concerning Aguirre as a historical figure. The first, led by Segundo de Izpizua’s interpretation, attempts to vindicate the questionable leader of Maranones and portrays him as a worthy and glorious forerunner of Latin American independence. The second, closer in intent to the official accounts of the period, shows him as a horrible tyrant, bloodthirsty and cruel. The first position is consistent with Aguirre’s own self-definition: he was a rebel, a pilgrim, a prince of freedom. (Beatriz Pastor Bodmer 194)

28) Of modern filmmakers, Werner Herzog is the most visionary and the most obsessed with great themes. Little wonder that he has directed many operas. He does not want to tell a plotted story or record amusing dialog; he wants to lift us up into realms of wonder. Only a handful of modern films share the audacity of his vision; I think of “2001: A Space Odyssey'' and “Apocalypse Now.'' Among active directors, the one who seems as messianic is Oliver Stone. There is a kind of saintly madness in the way they talk about their work; they cannot be bothered with conventional success, because they reach for transcendence. (Roger Ebert)

29) Kinski himself is remarkable. Not nearly as hammy as you might expect, he radiates insane power, cruelty, cunning and charm simply by standing there, a ghostly madman's smile playing about his lips, pale china-blue eyes gleaming. Like a shaman or supernatural mystic-artist, he projects his crazed Weltanschauung out on to the landscape, in which he sees only opportunity for wealth and fame. And when two Indians canoe out to their raft with a gold ornament -- a moment of unforgettable strangeness -- his dreams seem to be vindicated. (Peter Bradshaw)

30) The general tone is the one of outrage and despair that comes from an aging soldier of the conquest who felt betrayed by what today is called “the system” and who, denying nothing of the accusations directed against him, persisted in the hope that his position would receive a hearing. (Thomas Holloway 38)

31) Some of the production design on the movie looks a bit creaky now: like the thin "explosions" dubbed on to the soundtrack for the cannon's roar, and the bright red fake blood. But what an extraordinary atmosphere the movie summons up from the first frame: the tale of the terrified interlopers in the unchanging jungle effortlessly persuades us of its historical reality, like an unearthly documentary-film record of 16th-century events. (Peter Bradshaw)

32) Kinski's performance is curdled glam rock. Although he doesn't do much more than project paranoid hyper-vigilance, his posturing commands the screen. (Literally: At one point, he pivots to push a horse out of his way.) "I am the great traitor," Kinski maintains, "I am the Wrath of God," and his guttural screech even sounds like Hitler. His character contrives fake trials and secret executions, expresses an ultimate desire to "forge history," or stage it "like the others stage plays," and leads his men to destruction. Even as Herzog worked out his own demons, he dramatized imperial conquest and its connection to European fascism. That Aguirre appeared during the final stages of the Vietnam War links it to America's jungle madness as well. (J. Hoberman)

33) From an ideological perspective, Aguirre’s rebellion is unequivocally reactionary and anachronistic. It contains not a single progressive—let alone revolutionary—element. Its goal is to defend the idealized values of a mythified past, and it rejects any change in the obsolete medieval military society Aguirre wishes to perpetuate. In his perception, the military-Christian values of the Crusades are the very essence of the spirit of Spain, Christian values of the Crusades are the very essence of the spirit of Spain, and any change means degeneration and corruption. He proposes to restore the purity of this spirit by eliminating all those representatives of the civilian order who do not understand the higher value of war. For him, a life dedicated to war is the highest possible human aspiration. (Beatriz Pastor Bodmer 198)

34) Herzog’s firm belief in the basic human condition being alienation forms the basis for his unique definition of madness and what constitutes being an insider or outsider. In his opinion, most people are mad or outsiders because they are unable to see or refuse to accept their essential alienation from the universe and society. (Ronald Fritze 83)

35) Werner Herzog has devoted himself in film after film to men engaged in somber struggles, desperate undertakings against great odds, but where the struggles -- sometimes highly symbolic -- are in no obvious ways directed toward the public welfare. (Richard Grenier 61)

36) I see Aguirre as between Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now. While the historical basis drastically differs, both geographically and chronologically, Aguirre looks at similar themes. We have Aguirre who falls into a state of detached reality and madness similiar to Kurtz, and there is even a resemblance to the complex and blurry writing style of Joseph Conrad. The natives have a statuesque quality to them, as if frozen in time for all to see. Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now approached their native characters as foreign, incapable of culture but still as objects of awe and wonder, like statues. Similarly the worlds of Peru, the Congo, and Vietnam also share an aura of beauty, danger, suffocation, and the capability to create psychological instability. I could not help but draw parallels between the worlds and the "invaders." The historical relationships between the three echo back themes of colonialism, conquest, and modern democratic expansion (perhaps a much nicer way of saying modern imperialism). Aguirre does not say much much in terms of dialogue or a story in general, but the mood, character depictions, and scene shots bring back the times of the other two works. (Jose Berrios, Lehigh University)

37) Within Aguirre’s discourse, despair is all he has left to replace his lost innocence, the only yield resulting from his personal experience of conquest. Aguirre’s description of his journey down the Maranon River becomes a symbolic representation of a spiritual journey that leads to a growing awareness of his irrevocable marginalization. (Beatriz Pastor Bodmer 200)

38) Herzog’s films Aguirre, Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo have traditionally been read as anti-colonial and progressive in content and form. But in spite of a history of economic exploitation, political dominance and the ongoing destruction of the rainforest on breathtaking scale, which continues unbroken from the bloody conquest in the sixteenth century, the jungle is presented as impenetrable, hostile, and ultimately victorious. All attempts on the part of the Europeans to control and to rule over the impenetrable landscape of South America and its people are shown to be defeated by the natural world and natural man. (Gundula Sharman 107)

39) Herzog is not interested in documented history for reality's sake but in a symbolic reality, in a deeper truth. In order to achieve this symbolic reality, he adapted facts to suit his vision. (Victoria M. Stiles 163)

40) Why, then, do so many Latin American cultural observers find such fascination in this surly misanthrope? . . . In the fury and failure of Lope de Aguirre, his persistence and immortality, we have models for understanding critical elements of Latin American civilization: its chronic political instability, its centuries-old search for identity, and the richness of its literary artistry. (Bart L. Lewis 18)

41) By recreating, disguising and inventing a documented past -- Herzog sends a mixed message. The film apparently is about the absurdity of mediating and authenticating human experience through the production and interpretation of historical texts. Yet the film ultimately derives its full meaning through and understanding and reconfirmation of the importance of history. (Thomas P. Waldemer 43)

42) Aguirre’s letters and speeches reveal that he was an anguished, anachronistic rebel, not a madman. The source of his rebelliousness was a subjective, irrational perception of the irreversible crisis of an order with which he felt completely identified. His plan was a desperate, nostalgic attempt to restore the spiritual values of a time that was no more. (Beatriz Pastor Bodmer 203)

43) Before there is character there is landscape. The viewer’s first observations of the diegetic locations of the narrative coincide with the thematic articulation of several metaphysical “first principles” about the nature of “reality” and the human condition. The world is displayed as vast, natural (ahistorical) and indifferent to humanity. The individual is presented as a minuscule element of the whole, ever in danger of being engulfed and lost in the world’s vastness. (Dana Benelli 92)

44) Its basis in history aside, it is a tale of obsessive fixation on fortune and fame, jealousy and lust, honor betrayed and defended, and, ultimately, paranoid delusions. The film suggests that such an intense mix, stripped of the inhibitions and restrictions of civilized society, immersed in the power of nature, can lead to brutal and deadly strife, delirium, and destruction. As Herzog himself has said, “This film, I think, is not really a narrative of actual happenings or a portrait of actual people. At any level it is a film about what lies behind landscapes, faces, situations, and works.” (Thomas Holloway 30)

45) The only character we have the chance to follow closely throughout the entire film is the most delusion bound and unlike-able character in the film itself. As the like-able characters with whom the viewer can associate are killed off, we are left in a forced relationship with a disturbing blonde tyrant. (James "Alec" Murphy, Lehigh University)

46) In this last form of the discourse of demythification, the epic order fictionalized by Cortes is replaced by the chaos of terror; his Utopian representations of a world organized in terms of an idealized concept of honor, justice, discipline, and obedience under the law are challenged here by a critical presentation of violence, rivalry, injustice and corruption. This view both cancels Cortes’s model and reveals the irreversible decadence of the chivalrous course. (Beatriz Pastor Bodmer 180)

47) If the fictional Aguirre’s party had survived the perils of the jungle river as well as Orellana’s did, there would not have been much of a movie for Herzog. The true story of Orellana represents a triumph of human endeavor over a savage environment, not the image of defeat that Herzog is portraying in Aguirre, the Wrath of God. (Ronald Fritze 80)

48) Contrasted with the other conquest-related films we have viewed, Aguirre certainly contributes the most lunatic portrayal of an animalistic hunt for gold. Though minimalist (and boring, according to some) in its action and dialogue, Aguirre seems to be the most psychologically thrilling of the films we have watched. Before our eyes, we see Aguirre's descent from evil to deteriorated insanity. I thought the varying scenes with animals (the sloth, the squirrels, and, finally, the abundance of monkeys) were interesting because they constantly reminded the audience that Aguirre has been reduced to his primitive state. His desire for gold and for El Dorado have surpassed his human capabilities of empathetic emotion and logic; he is nothing more than the animals he is amongst. (Carina Meleca, Lehigh University)

49) During the journey on the river the Spaniards gradually lose the hallmarks of civilization they brought across the Atlantic. The cannon, the might of paper and ink and the horse, three symbols of European power and superiority, are one after the other claimed by the jungle. (Gundula Sharman 100)

50) I emphasize the music because the sound of a Herzog film is organically part of its effect. His stories begin in a straightforward manner, but their result is incalculable, and there is no telling where they may lead: They conclude not in an “ending'' but in the creation of a mood within us -- a spiritual or visionary feeling. I believe he wants his audiences to feel like detached observers, standing outside time, saddened by the immensity of the universe as it bears down on the dreams and delusions of man. (Roger Ebert)

51) At Cumana [the former Maracapana], before the earthquake of December 14, 1797, a strong smell of sulfur was perceived near the hill of the convent of Saint Francis. At the same time, flames appeared on the banks of the Manzanares and in the gulf of Cariaco. . . . This last phenomenon is quite frequent in the Alpine calcareous mountains near Cumanacou and in the island of Margarita, where flakes of fire rise to a considerable height. This fire, which is like the will-o'-the-wisp of our marshes, does not burn the grass. The people call these flames "the soul of the traitor Aguirre," and the natives of Barquisimeto believe that the soul of the traitor wanders in the savannnas, like a flame that flies the approach of men. (Alexander von Humboldt, qtd in Minta 220-21)

52) When the chief of Guatavita was independent, he made a solemn sacrifice every year, which, for its singularity, contributed to give celebrity to the lake of Guatavita, in the most distant countries, and which was the origin of the belief in El Dorado, in search of which so many years and so much wealth was employed. On the day appointed the chief smeared his body with turpentine, and then rolled in gold dust. Thus gilded and resplendent, he entered the canoe, surrounded by his nobles, while an immense multitude of people, with music and songs, crowded round the shores of the lake. Having reached the centre, the chief deposited his offerings of gold, emeralds, and other precious things, and then jumped in himself, to bathe. At this moment the surrounding hills echoed with the applause of the people; and, when the religious ceremony concluded, the drinking, singing, and dancing began. (Jose Acosta, qtd in Bollaert ii)

53) He [the King] went about all covered with powdered gold, as casually as if it were powdered salt. For it seemed to him that to wear any other finery was less beautiful, and that to put on ornaments or arms made of gold worked by hammering, stamping, or by other means, was a vulgar and common thing. (Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo, qtd in Legend of El Dorado)

54) The ceremony took place on the appointment of a new ruler. Before taking office, he spent some time secluded in a cave, without women, forbidden to eat salt and chilli pepper, or to go out during daylight. The first journey he had to make was to go to the great lagoon of Guatavita, to make offerings and sacrifices to the demon which they worshipped as their god and lord. During the ceremony which took place a the lagoon, they made a raft of rushes, embellishing and decorating it with the most attractive things they had. They put on it four lighted braziers in which they burned much moque, which is the incense of these natives, and also resin and many other perfumes. The lagoon was large and deep, so that a ship with high sides could sail on it, all loaded with an infinity of men and women dressed in fine plumes, golden plaques and crowns… As soon as those on the raft began to burn incense, they also lit braziers on the shore, so that the smoke hid the light of day. At this time they stripped the heir to his skin, and anointed him with a sticky earth on which they placed gold dust so that he was completely covered with this metal. They placed him on the raft . . . and at his feet they placed a great heap of gold and emeralds for him to offer to his god. In the raft with him went four principal subject chiefs, decked in plumes, crowns, bracelets, pendants and ear rings all of gold. They, too, were naked, and each one carried his offering. . . . when the raft reached the centre of the lagoon, they raised a banner as a signal for silence. The gilded Indian then . . . [threw] out all the pile of gold into the middle of the lake, and the chiefs who had accompanied him did the same on their own accounts. . . . After this they lowered the flag, which had remained up during the whole time of offering, and, as the raft moved towards the shore, the shouting began again, with pipes, flutes, and large teams of singers and dancers. With this ceremony the new ruler was received, and was recognized as lord and king. (Rodrígues Freyle, qtd in Legend of El Dorado)

55) As the search for the philosopher's stone led to many discoveries in chemistry, so the romantic expeditions in quest of the golden city of Manoa, and the gilded chief, conduced more than any other circumstance, during the latter part of the 16th century, to the extension of geographical knowledge in South America. Many of these expeditions were conducted with great skill and perseverance; others are memorable for deeds of unequaled heroism; but none was so extraordinary as that which Don Pedro de Ursua led down from Peru into the great valley of the Amazon, and which ended in the sanguinary career of the mad demon Lope de Aguirre. (Clements Markham, in Bollaert liii)

56) The myth of a Golden Land, or City, or King, was perhaps the most powerful or enduring of the many myths that held the imagination of European adventurers in that century, and it has continued to haunt the imaginations of Latin American writers and artists to this day, including Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Alejo Carpentier, Miguel Otero Silva, Abel Posse, Carlos Fuentes, Francisco Herrera Luque, Arturo Uslar Pietri, Jose Gamarra, Miguel von Dangel and Emilia Sunyer, as well as writers in English from Rider Haggard, Joseph Conrad and W. H. Hudson to Wilson Harris and V. S. Naipaul. The Spanish historian Emiliano Jos has said that more territory was explored as a result of searches for El Dorado than for any other single reason, and to this day exploration continues in search of gold in the very region where Raleigh claimed to see the towers of Manoa gleaming beside Lake Parima, while European maps of the region between the Orinoco and the Amazon continued to show Lake Parima and the gold towers of El Dorado on its shores up to the early nineteenth century. (John Silver 2)

57) Certain rumors prevailed in those times . . . respecting rich provinces . . . [where] dwelt the gilded man. . . . It so excited the minds of those restless spirits with whom Peru was full and who were ever ready to credit these rumors that they Viceroy thought it prudent to seek some way to give employment to so large a body of turbulent men. . . . The Marquis also hoped to relieve the provinces of Peru of much corrupt blood, by sending forth many idle people, like those which had already placed the famous kingdom in danger. (William Bollaert 2-3)