Cinergía Movie File:

Aguirre, The Wrath of God 

Directed by Werner Herzog, 1973


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Aguirre, The Wrath of God

Created by Brian Sabella

Scroll down or Click on any section to jump ahead:

Section 1: Pre-screening

Section 2: Film Comprehension and Criticism

    Section 3: Media analysis

Section 1: Pre-screening  

Background Links

Note: Given the transitory nature of internet resources we suggest conducting a search to help answer the pre-screening questions.  Only a few links are included below.

Roger Ebert’s Review:

In English.  See what movie critic Roger Ebert thinks of this classic movie.  He gives a brief overview of the plot and points out some cinematographic aspects of the film.

Biography of Werner Herzog

In English.  This site gives a brief outline of the life and works of director Werner Herzog.  It also gives some indication of his personality (“One of the most eccentric figures in the New German Cinema...”) and of his unconventional filmmaking techniques.

Different Viewpoints of Pizarro’s Conquest

In English.  It is always important to consider multiple viewpoints when examining history, in order to avoid subjecting oneself to a biased perspective.  This site offers three different versions of Francisco Pizarro’s invasion of Latin America, which in turn, allows the individual to avoid the common pitfall of accepting only a single account of history.

All About Lope de Aguirre

In English.  This site goes into great detail about nearly every aspect of Lope de Aguirre’s life.  It is important to realize that every single film based on a true story takes the liberty of changing and excluding certain historical facts in order to adapt the story to a viewable motion picture.  Try to take note of the liberties Aguirre, the Wrath of God takes by comparing its version of the past to that of this text.


Lope de Aguirre Article

In English.  This is another piece of writing devoted to the historical figure Lope de Aguirre.  Because this is an encyclopedia article, the approach is slightly more straightforward and objective.

El Dorado

In English.  In the film, Aguirre and his crew are searching for a land of gold, El Dorado, and this site focuses on its history.  The theme of reaching for the unreachable is an important one in Aguirre, so focusing on El Dorado may very well shed some light on this matter.

Klaus Kinski Article

In English.  This encyclopedia article describes the life and works of the Aguirre actor, Klaus Kinski.  Kinski starred in a number of Herzog’s films and the two had an interesting chemistry together.


Pre-screening Questions

  1. What were the conditions of the filming of Aguirre, the Wrath of God? (i.e. its setting, the morale of the crew, etc.)
  2. What are some common aspects of Herzog’s films?
  3. In general, how did Pizarro treat the Inca people?  What leads you to this conclusion?
  4. What are some truths of Pizarro’s conquest that most likely don’t show up in school textbooks?
  5. Looking at just his letter to the king of Spain, what is your impression of Lope de Aguirre?
  6. Looking at the “Aguirre’s Personality” site, what is your impression of Aguirre now?
  7. When and for what reason was Ursúa’s expedition launched?
  8. What are some different interpretations of the El Dorado legend?
  9. Explain briefly how, when, and by whom South America was colonized.
  10. How might Klaus Kinski be considered “perfect” for the role of Aguirre?

Section 2: Film Comprehension and Criticism  

Comprehension Questions

  1. Where was Pizarro’s expedition headed before things went awry?
  2. What is the reasoning behind Pizarro’s construction of a special crew?
  3. What is the purpose of this crew?
  4. Who is to be a part of this crew?
  5. Who narrates the film?
  6. What did Pedro de Ursúa do to get shot?
  7. How does Fernando de Guzmán first exercise his newfound power?
  8. Do there seem to be any sane characters on the journey with Aguirre?
  9. What is the overall atmosphere on the raft?
  10. Why and how is Guzmán murdered?
  11. What kind of thoughts are beginning to dominate the mind of Aguirre?
  12. What happens to the friendly native when he visits the raft?
  13. At this point, what does the fate of this voyage seem to be?
  14. What is the significance of the ship in the tree?
  15. What kind of thoughts are running through the mind of Aguirre as the film comes to an end?

Historical Accuracy  

The following quotes come from: Thomas H. Holloway, " Whose Conquest Is This, Anyway? Aguirre, the Wrath of God" in Donald F. Stevens (ed.) Based on a True Story: Latin American History at the Movies. Wilmington, DE: SR Books, 1997, pp. 29-46.

1.                  Did Ursúa display any of the characteristics explained above in the film?

2.                  Do the places, dates, and number of men of the film coincide with those of reality?

3.                  What, do you think, is the reason for this neglect of historical accuracy?

4.                  What is Holloway trying to say in the third quotation?

5.                  What does Herzog’s attitude towards historical accuracy say about the film?

6.                  Does the film aid to your understanding of the historical period?

7.                  What are some possible inaccuracies in the film?  How do they affect the viewer’s understanding of the period?

8.                  Is this a good film to watch to learn about the conquest of Latin America?  Why?

Section 3: Media analysis  

Descending the Andes

This still is taken from the first scene of the movie when Pizarro and his crew of slaves and warriors are snaking down the face of a mountain.  First, the camera is focused on the misty mountaintop and as it slowly pans down, the crew becomes visible to the viewer.  Their position below the camera and their large distance from it suggests the perspective of an omnipresent power, reminding us that man is weak and mortal when compared to the supremacy of Nature.

The Wheel of Misfortune

The wheel is introduced \ early in the film and reappears constantly later in many different respects.  First, the metaphorical wheel of destruction is a recurrent theme throughout the entire voyage.  One could picture a wheel marked with four points, each one equidistant and placed on the perimeter.  As the wheel rolls on the ground, and at any one time, there is a point that is on top, one falling, one being smashed, and another rising.  It seems as though this expedition begins as one of the falling points and ends up being smashed on the bottom.  Also, this wheel is the first circle that is introduced in the film.  All through the voyage, both cinematographic and metaphorical circles are constantly utilized, perhaps to emphasize concepts of confusion and the reliability of fate.

A Giant in His Own Mind

The position of the camera well below Aguirre suggests the enormous magnitude of his character.  In his own mind, Aguirre is a man with all the power of a god and an individual who is more considerable than any of his peers.  What's more, because of this angle, the still is dripping with irony.  While the camera makes Aguirre look physically and metaphorically enormous, the viewer knows very well of the impending death of himself, his crew, and his grandiose mind-set.  The size of the sky above him reminds the viewer that Aguirre is no less human being—and thus mortal—than anyone else.

Omnipotence Dominates

Finally, Nature eradicates all that tries to overtake it.  During the entire film, Aguirre had been attempting to occupy that which was not his, and now he is finally being defeated by that which is stronger that him.  Its almost as though Nature is mocking Aguirre and his daring plan by swarming his pitiful raft with monkeys.  As he walks from side to side, his posture begins to worsen, while being crushed by the massive gray sky.  The camera continues to circle the raft, indicating that the wheel of misfortune will remain turning for all of eternity.

Media Literacy Questions:

  1. Media messages communicate explicit and implicit values; name some values of Don Pedro de Ursúa the film seemed to encourage and some values of Lope de Aguirre the film seemed to discourage.

  2. Comment on the significance of the leitmotiv of “vicious circles” (both cinematographic and metaphorical) throughout the film.

  3. How would Aguirre, the Wrath of God be different if it were presented by a medium other than film (i.e. novel, soap opera, etc.)?

  4. Whose viewpoint was not heard?  Why do you think that viewpoint was not included in the film?

  5. Comment on the significance of the music that is played during the opening of the film when Pizarro’s men are descending the Andes.  Can you think of another instance when music played an important role in conveying a certain aspect of the film?

  6. Can you think of another instance when a unique cinematographic feature played a significant role in conveying a certain aspect of the film?

  7. Does the plot of Aguirre, the Wrath of God seem motivated by historical accuracy, by creating a successful drama, or both?

  8. Do you think many are inspired or impressed by Aguirre’s diligence and leadership despite the overall ugliness of his character?  If so, do you believe that to be the intention of the film or an unforeseen effect?

  9. Did it seem like Aguirre, the Wrath of God was more driven by commercial characteristics (that is, the need to make money) or by the creation of art?

  10. Are there any groups or people who would be offended by this film or think that it promoted “immoralities”?  Are their voices loud enough to affect the success of the film or the creation of another like it?

  11. What do you suppose the creators of this film have to say about authority?

  12. Who is the intended audience of this film?  (i.e. would a ten year-old child get anything from this movie?)

  13. Do you think it is important to research the director of this film, Werner Herzog, before viewing?  Why or why not?

  14. Do you think the purpose of Aguirre, the Wrath of God was to inform, entertain, or persuade?  Was it a combination of these three?  Support your opinion.

  15. How did the film attempt to influence the attitudes, behaviors, and values of its viewers?

  16. Is Aguirre, the Wrath of God the type of film that can be enjoyed to its fullest extent through mere, passive absorption or must the viewer engage himself in its themes, plotlines, etc. to be fully appreciated?  How is this?


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Created on 4/10/01 

Last updated on 08/27/2007