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

On this river God never finished his creation.

As far as we can tell, writer and director Werner Herzog has never spoken directly about where and when he came across the story of Aguirre or what specific sources on which he may have based his original screenplay. The story is widely known, however, and it seems clear that Herzog consulted the primary sources (see our historical context bibliography), for the film Aguirre combines two separate expeditions in search of El Dorado. The first El Dorado quest, in 1540, was headed by Gonzalo Pizarro, who sent Francisco de Orellana on the separate smaller mission that was recorded by Gaspar de Carvajal. There was a revolt on this mission, but, because Orellana "acquiesced to the desires of his men," violence was avoided (Fritze 78). The second El Dorado quest, in 1560, was headed by Pedro Ursua. This was the mission on which Aguirre served, rebelling against Ursua, continuing to the mouth of the Amazon, where he hoped to gather forces to take over Peru, and where he was killed by Royalist forces. In the film Pizarro heads and Carvajal records the later Ursua expedition, and the solitary Aguirre presumably dies at the end, stalled somewhere in the punishing Amazon itself. Such other important characters in the film as Don Fernando de Guzman, Ursua's wife or mistress Dona Inez, and Aguirre's daughter Flora were on the 1560 expedition. Orellana is mentioned in the screenplay, but, except for the ship in the tree toward the end of the film, the first expedition is invisible. Though it could be said that "the film is a portrayal of what might have happened if Aguirre had been on Orellana's voyage," most critics see Herzog more interested in plucking Aguirre out of history to serve as a "symbol of the dire effects of an obsessive quest for power in a hostile world" (Fritze 77, 75).

A voyage to extinction.