Of all the scenes most haunting within Werner Herzog’s 1972 drama, Aguirre, the Wrath of God, is the scene when a horse is shoved off the wooden raft and left to die alone in the Amazon jungle. Then, as the camera pulls away at the same pace as the river itself, the horse remains still, standing, and solitary. We never see the animal die, but like the doomed men on the raft, we know that death awaits. Perhaps we must tell ourselves that abandonment is a better fate for the helpless creature than continuing on this ill-fated expedition.
Aguirre, the Wrath of God is a visionary film both in approach and style, as it presents an eye-level realism of what might have transpired among a group of tired, starving explorers in search of the nebulously located ‘gold city’ of El Dorado during each passing day in 1560. Commencing on New Year, they hike down a foggy mountain through the drizzle and toil, and we see their tiredness, their discomfort. They are damp and dirty and running out of patience. In terms of maps, no one knows exactly where they are headed, but their idealism leads them, regardless. The journey treks on without any promise of arrival—do they know they are going in circles? Little do they know that after succumbing to hunger and fatigue, they will grow delusional when nothing presented seems real, be it a poisoned arrow to the body or a boat stuck in a tree. […]