In the 1560s, a group of conquistadores trek further into the Amazon. In a moment of disloyalty to their homeland, brought on by the madness they are suffering through their pointless trek, they elect Don de Guzman as the new king of this land. While traveling down the river on their make-shift raft, he sits on his throne, signs a document, and proclaims that the land surrounding him is now his. He claims the land he now owns is greater than the size of Spain. But the group is starving, seeking out the city of El Dorado with no hope in sight, being quickly killed off one by one, and going mad even faster than that. This Aguirre the Wrath of God analysis and review will contain SPOILERS.
Aguirre, the Wrath of God is the story of madness, unfound glory, and the unwillingness to accept the inevitable. It is man versus nature, man versus man, and man versus itself. The film begins by showing the line of conquistadores and their captured Native slaves trekking down the narrow, steep path of the Andes. The shot is taken from far away, pinning their smallness against the towering mass of the landscape. The music that accompanies this shot is equally grand and mysterious – it is rooted in a choral tradition which the characters may have been familiar with but has the modern elements of psychedelic rock and electronic music. The music’s use in such an odd time period mimics both the unfamiliarity and terror these characters have in a land that is not theirs; it is misplaced in time just as they are misplaced in country.
The pairing of the music with the landscape creates one of the most original and authoritative atmospheres by a director I have seen. It follows the characters through the film as they become more lost and insane, and it intensifies along with this madness. Death happens with equal unclarity – there are no sounds of bows or whirr of arrows. The scene simply changes to show a recently killed conquistador or a person stuck with an arrow seemingly out of nowhere. The band of conquistadores responds by firing guns and cannons into the trees at the unseen enemy, creating explosions and noise with no success. Their plan is to set fear in the minds of the attackers with the noise, yet to them, silence and death is the true cause of fear.
Aguirre, in the end, is the lone survivor of the band of troops. All others have died, either by arrows shot by the natives or by disease and starvation. He is on the raft with the bodies of his dead men and a group of monkeys. As the film recalls the glorified speeches the leaders gave throughout the film (such as that which Don de Guzman gave claiming the land as his own), Aguirre himself, once mad and now madder than ever, sermonizes his plan to conquer the lands to this band of monkeys. The camera speeds around him standing alone on the raft; the unfathomable music washes back in; Aguirre stands tall about these animals but the river and jungle around him seem to dwarf and swallow him whole.
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