Werner Herzog is in peak form here with this story of human evil and the sublime and haunting jungle which swallows anything it wants to swallow. Klaus Kinski's greedy, murderous, deluded soldier dreams of claiming all of the land around him for himself. In a way, he does. Well, him and a bunch of cheeky monkeys.
Human perversity ends up dwarfed by the jungle, never more threatening than when everything goes silent and a barrage of arrows kills off members of Aguirre's party. Again and again.
The Catholic monk who serves as the film's narrator dreams of conquest as well -- spiritual conquest. Well, and maybe a gold cross for himself. Aguirre searches for El Dorado, the legendary Lost City of Gold of the Americas. He's going down the Amazon to find it. Silly rabbit -- as we learned from Nick Cage's National Treasure movies, El Dorado is located beneath Mt. Rushmore!
Klaus Kinski is superb -- craven and menacing and delusional. The rest of the performances are solid. Shots of the party on their makeshift raft built to hold 20 people and a horse repeatedly surprise as the raft drifts in and out of encounters with the dangers of the river and the shore. An influence on pretty much every horrifying journey in movies ever after -- most notably Apocalypse Now -- Aguirre, The Wrath of God moves towards a climax that sums itself up with its final scene. Highly recommended.
Burden of Dreams (1989): directed by Les Blank: Documentarian Les Blank managed to make a great documentary about the filming of a great movie -- Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo. One can enjoy this without having watched Herzog and Klaus Kinski's second journey into the Amazon jungles, but you probably should if you haven't already.
Herzog's often loopy monologues are the highlight of the movie, which also sometimes offers surprising moments of humour. I'm not sure there's any better example of why one should never go to the movies for history than this documentary. The 'real' story of Fitzcarraldo involved the titular character moving a 30-ton steamship in 19 pieces overland from one bend of a river to another. Herzog inflated that to 300 tons, moved the whole steamship at once, and constantly imperiled everyone on the film pretty much all the time with increasingly arcane and difficult business.
But for all his faults, Herzog let this documentary show him in all his Faustian strangeness. Fascinating, involving stuff. Highly recommended.