Thursday, 12 March 2015

Alternate Best Actor 1972: Klaus Kinski in Aguirre, The Wrath of God

Klaus Kinski did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Lope De Aguirre in Aguirre, The Wrath of God.

Aguirre, Wrath of God is an intriguing film depicting a Spanish conquistadors attempt to find the non-existent city of gold named El Dorado.

Well I go from one journey down the river to another this time by a group of conquistadors, and their Indian servants as they attempt to make their way through the thick South America Jungle. We are first introduced to Kinski's Aguirre as part of the larger party of men in the jungle as he is essentially just one of the enforcers moving the people along. Kinski is perfect casting for a conqueror as you don't even need to know anything about Aguirre to know he probably has some blood on his hands. Kinski despite certainly not being the tallest man among the group is easily the most menacing as there is something so terribly imposing in the way he carries himself. Kinski is quite something to watch here in his weird way in he walks that seems to suggest a hunch as well as that Aguirre is almost some sort of creature. Not every actor could probably pull this off but with Kinski it feels quite natural only serving to help Aguirre stand out all the more as a very particular sort of man. His peculiarities though begin to rear their heads all the more when the expedition breaks up.

The original leader Gonzalo Pizarro sets off a group of men down the river with Aguirre set as second in command of the group. The film then proceeds to follow the men in their dangerous trek down the river into completely unknown territory. If someone were to watch the film for the first time the person might be a bit surprised to find out about Kinski's role in the film. Although he is indeed lead the film gives considerable focus to the other people on the expedition. Part of the strength of Kinski's work though is how his presence is always felt even when he may not be seen on screen. In the early part of the film, as the rafting party is lead by a more sensible leader named Ursúa, Kinski slinks around the film as almost an agent of destruction. Kinski is quite eloquently sinister in conveying the way Aguirre seems to be watching almost all waiting for their leader to exhibit some weakness in his control. Kinski quietly expresses the ambition in Aguirre which will play a large part in his eventual actions in the story. The way he watches Ursúa Kinski suggests the way Aguirre's intent is slowly simmering in the man, and that when it rears its head fully it might be unstoppable.

One of the first hurdles comes when one of the rafts gets trapped killing the men on board, and Ursúa orders that they receive a burial. Aguirre ensuring that no time is wasted manipulates a few things in order for the raft to be blown out of the water with a cannon ensuring no burial is needed. Kinski creates the deviousness in Aguirre in a rather interesting way. When he destroys the raft there's not pleasure that is shown in his face, or any obvious sadism. Kinski rather plays it as simply a determination in the actions. Aguirre does not destroy the raft for fun, or pleasure, but rather because it will perhaps prevent the expedition from reaching its goal. Eventually Ursúa decides that there is no point to continue the mission and they best backtrack since it seems impossible to go forward. Aguirre's reaction is to obviously have him shot. Kinski utilizes what he built up to before as he suddenly wholly dominates the proceedings as Aguirre lords over all, as he reveals a vicious passion in Aguirre as he conducts everyone in their place which means shooting any supporters. The funny thing is Aguirre does not even take official charge claiming a different man to be King, even though it is obvious who holds the strings.

After this the trek continues down the river despite that no El Dorado is in sight, and the dangers only seem to increase. Kinski is particularly effective in depicting the way Kinski orchestrates the journey forward even though Aguirre still stays only second in command in terms of official standing. Kinski is good in the moments where he quietly prods the puppet ruler to take certain actions, and exudes that power of the personality as it is obvious that all the important decisions are made by Aguirre even if he does not necessarily give the order. Kinski is compelling in the way he makes himself as the almost silent ruler who controls all, and even creates the sense of false benevolence in his manner as he allows Ursúa to live for a little while longer. Kinski balances this well with the more intense moments though of a more obvious leadership. This mostly comes in the form of when they attack the locals who occasionally attack and kill a few of the remaining party. When the men storm Kinski brings the intensity of the attack in his performance as he does lead his men in kinda a routine massacre where he kills whoever is around, and always destroys whatever property he and his men can find.

Every moment Kinski is on screen he brings something to his portrayal of Aguirre. There a few particularly good moments where Aguirre interacts with his daughter who has been brought along the voyage. Kinski nicely brings some tenderness to Aguirre, although even this is a bit problematic as proven later on. Kinski artfully brings this more earthly moments within the framework of the larger than life presentation of Aguirre. Kinski effectively makes him a man though also is absolutely convincing in bringing out someone who would proclaim himself the wrath of God. The size of the man ends up being questioned though as there clearly is no city of gold. One marvelous part of his performance is a seemingly simple reaction of Kinski. The moment is when Aguirre is looking out on the last raft towards the distance. It is not just a simple look checking out what's ahead of him. No instead Kinski realizes the ambition of the man in that look as he seems to be looking off the distance to see El Dorado every time with that great gaze of his, yet it always ends with  disappointment since there never is that golden city in the horizon to be seen.

Due to El Dorado not existing the amount of living passengers and men slowly diminish. With that a madness grows in Aguirre as it is obvious that the whole journey has been futile. The insanity that Kinski portrays does not come from Aguirre realizing that he has failed, but rather it is found in that he cannot or at least refuses to accept his failure. Kinski gradually shows the way Aguirre seems to slowly withdraw into his own mind to become of his own world where his attempt to create a kingdom has been a success. According to Werner Herzog Kinski wanted to depict the final scene, where Aguirre is alone in his "kingdom", as a rambling loud insanity. Herzog though basically used up Kinski's anger though leaving him to handle the scene in a quieter fashion. Well this was a masterstroke for Herzog as Kinski is outstanding in the final scene. He has that intensity of madness though it is in his eyes and the manner in which he seems to be searching for something which is nowhere to be found. In addition though Kinski is surprisingly moving as well as he brings this somberness in the final moments as though a part of Aguirre has understood his failure. It is a powerful ending to this incredible portrait of a descent into a delusion of grandeur.


koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...


John Smith said...

You shoul review Kinskis performance in Woyzeck for bonusrounds

Anonymous said...

I'd like to read about Kinski's performance in Fitzcaraldo too. However, this is one of my favourite Kisnki performances. Kinski is unstable, unpredictable and sparkling... I guess it would have been Jack Nicholson to portray Aguire if this was directed by Coppola or Romanski.

luke higham said...

Louis: Ratings & Thoughts on the rest of the cast.

Anonymous said...

So erm, why do some people dislike this film?

Michael McCarthy said...

I know not everyone goes for this performance, but I think it's excellent. Kinski had this subtle otherworldly quality to his performance throughout that made me wonder if maybe Aguirre really was the wrath of God.

Michael Patison said...

Anonymous: I frankly found it boring a lot of the time. The cinematography is pretty and the score is interesting, but all the performances were at best underwhelming 100% of the time with the exception of Kinski, who I'd give a 4 because I felt he got lost in the mess too much of the time. It's really a shame too since I tend to like Wenders work, even if I also find him slightly pedantic at the same time sometimes

Louis Morgan said...


For the rest of the cast this is Kinski's show. Not that they are really bad, but they are that sort of pawns of the director style of performances.

Michael Patison:

It's Herzog not Wenders.