BP’s Top 100 Movie Challenge #73: Aguirre, the Wrath of God, by Sarah Brinks
I decided to undertake a movie challenge in 2017. This seemed like a good way to see some classic movies that I have unfortunately never seen. The Battleship Pretension Top 100 list provided such a challenge.
This is the first time I have seen Aguirre, the Wrath of God and it was everything I expected from a Werner Herzog film. It was epic in scope, brutally realistic, and dramatic. I knew the basic story line of the film, a group on Spanish conquistadors search for El Dorado but I didn’t expect so much attention paid to the legality of their actions. They even had a small trial in the middle of the jungle. I also assumed from the title that Don Lope de Aguirre would play a more central role in the film but he doesn’t take center stage, if you will, until the final third of the film. By that time, he has gone completely crazy.
Klaus Kinski’s performance as Aguirre is everything I had heard about from the film community. By the end of the film he’s transformed from driven conquistador to a tilting, lunatic who can’t see the forest for the trees. Kinski’s physical commitment to his performance is riveting, Aguirre starts off crazy-eyed and a little off kilter but by the end he is practically deformed. I have no idea how Kinski was able to get his body to pivot and swivel while he was leaning back and hanging on to his sword, but he really mastered it and it completely informed who Aguirre was as a character.
I love how Herzog uses the Spanish characters to point out how absurd their conquest is. At one point Don Fernando de Guzman, the appointed Emperor, is sitting on the raft claiming the land on the left and right bank for his own. He claims that his lands are now bigger than Spain but they have barely claimed their raft much less an entire countryside. There is also a very upsetting scene when a pair of native Indians comes aboard their boat and they are beheaded because they disrespect the bible and don’t accept the word of God. They don’t understand anything about Christianity or books so it is absurd for them to be converted in a few minutes. Later, Don Guzman is stuffing his face with fish and fruit while the other men on the raft starve and count kernels of corn.
As an animal lover, I struggled sometimes with the film. In the opening shot a cage with chickens is thrown down the side of a mountain. The horse they bring on the raft is constantly abused then finally abandoned and it was really hard to watch. Pigs and llamas are wrestled and generally mistreated. It might have been realistic but I struggled to watch it and had to power through some of those moments.
I never imagined that conquering lands was a particularly dignified or pleasant task but Aguirre, the Wrath of God shows how brutal, ugly, and difficult it really was.
I’ve decided to rate each film using an arbitrary scale based on the board game Battleship (lowest: Destroyer, Submarine, Cruiser, Battleship, highest: Carrier)
Aguirre, the Wrath of God ranking: Battleship