Werner Herzog is the film critique’s darling, and that is surely in part true to the fact that he makes art more than he makes films that people will want to see. His movies are not precisely stories or drama in the strictest sense of the word. They are the sort of thing you would reflect upon seeing them on a gallery wall more than a cinema screen.
This is especially true in Herzog’s poems to the futility he sees in humanity set upon the Amazon River. In Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes the futility is seen in a conquistador’s crazy quest for the golden city: El Dorado. In Fitzcarraldo, it is a man’s desire for an Opera House that drives him to pull an entire ship over a mountain from one river to another.
Neither movie is a story. Both movies are more about the just-as-crazy obsession Herzog exhibited in making the films as his protagonists exhibited in the films themselves. For the story of the trek down the Amazon on rafts, he filmed the movie floating down the river on rafts. For Fitzcarraldo, he really had a boat pulled over a mountain.
Both are hypnotically beautiful. (So hypnotic that some have a hard time getting through them!) Both are pretty astounding achievements. However, given the fact that Herzog’s message seems to be that man’s efforts are insane to a large degree futile, one has to wonder. What is Herzog saying about his own life’s work?
As with Nosferatu, (the film he made with Kinski in between these other efforts) the hopeless and pessimistic message is pretty bleak. This is the sort of product one would expect from a materialist with no understanding of meaning or purpose in life. How does one explain such an outlook pouring so much energy into the world?