The secret behind such perennial stoner favorites as Dark Side of the Rainbow is that the brain will always look at odd juxtapositions and find patterns–it’s what the brain does. So when you watch a seemingly random double feature like Hacking Democracy and Aguirre, the two will seem to speak to each other as a matter of course. The quest for democratic elections can seem as quixotic as the search for El Dorado, a doomed raft of fools headed nowhere while the jungle teems with terrorists and cannibals. The ridiculous “Emperor of El Dorado” signs meaningless letters while a crippled Machiavelli schemes for control over the rotting simulacrum of civilization that continues to disintegrate as they drift downstream toward complete paralysis and entropy.

Then again, part of the brilliance of Aguirre is its metaphorical power, the ease with which it invites readings like these. From the linear first shot of the conquistadores decending through the Andes, the film is suffused with a dreamlike quality, and by the time Aguirre reaches its circular, monkey-infested finale, it has moved into a hallucinatory state that makes it feel entirely like a product of the collective unconscious. Even more so than that other Conrad-inspired epic of jungle madness, Apocalypse Now, Aguirre reveals history as an illusion.

In his autobiography, Klaus Kinski portrays Werner Herzog as an incompetent buffon, a bumbling, bloviating idiot who doesn’t know the first thing about filmmaking–and I’m just summarizing the gentler of several pages worth of abuse. According to Kinski, the task of saving Aguirre fell to him, Kinski. I’ve been entertaining the possibility that this may be true. Kinski’s genius is evident in every shot.

Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes. Werner Herzog, 1972. *****

[tags]klaus kinski, werner herzog, aguirre, 5 stars, film, german, south america, rafts, river, doom, tragedy, civilization, hallucinatory, apocalypse now[/tags]