Starring: Klaus Kinski, Ruy Guerra, Helena Rojo
Director: Werner Herzog
Running Time: 95 mins
Aguirre, The Wrath Of God (Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes) is a German film about a ruthless Spanish conquistador who leads a brutal and maddening expedition through the jungle in search of the riches of El Dorado.
Certainly one of the most deranged films you’ll ever come across, Aguirre, The Wrath Of God is as spectacularly disturbing a psychological drama as it is an incredible feat of filmmaking, and a movie unlike any other.
There’s so much to say about Aguirre, The Wrath Of God, but it’s difficult to look past the mastery of the central performance by Klaus Kinski, playing a Spanish conquistador who stages a mutiny against his chief and leads his own deranged expedition towards the illusive El Dorado.
Simply put, Kinski is terrifying through the entire movie. Sometimes, there’s something almost unnervingly funny about his performance, so deranged that you really can’t believe it, but for the most part, he’s downright disturbing, turning more and more insane as his futile mission through the jungle drags on.
Alongside Kinski’s performance, director Werner Herzog and the entire crew on this film deserve the highest praise for making a film in such incredibly harsh conditions, right in the middle of a jungle, at the height of summer, with a very large cast.
Above all, the fact that Herzog pushes the film to such extreme lengths makes it a powerful view of the Spanish conquest of the Americas, both the arduous expeditions the Spanish conquistadors undertook, but also the way that they so brutally subjugated the native population.
As disturbing and unsettling as it is to see a crew of Spanish explorers turn on each other as greed sets in, perhaps the most disturbing images of the film are those showing large groups of indigenous people sat in repressed silence as the Spanish fight with each other.
It’s a sobering look at the enslavement of an entire population, and only adds to the dark, upsetting nature of the film’s psychological drama.
On the flipside, it’s fair to say that Aguirre, The Wrath Of God isn’t the most exhilarating film you’ll ever watch. Of course, Werner Herzog is never there to make a fast-paced, action-packed film, but there are times – particularly in the film’s middle stage – where things do lack a certain intensity.
The overarching themes of the film are what keep it interesting throughout, but it also struggles to stay at the highest level of psychological intensity and disturbing drama throughout, meaning that those ‘down times’ are a whole lot less powerful than you’re expecting.
As a result, watching Aguirre, The Wrath Of God can feel like a bit of a mixed bag at times, even if that’s mostly because of the brilliance of the film’s best moments. With a stunning central performance, bold and ambitious direction and deeply disturbing drama throughout, it’s a gripping if not challenging watch, which is why I’m giving the film a 7.2 overall.