Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Lessons of Darkness

Werner Herzog is one of the great filmmakers we've ever been given. His Lessons of Darkness is about 50 minutes long, and one of the best science fiction films I've seen. Herzog filmed in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion of Kuwait in the early 90's, showing bombed out buildings, oil fields aflame, broken people, and more remnants of the destruction of war. No special effects. How Herzog frames the story, however, is that of an expedition onto a foreign planet, and seeing the destruction that a war has brought to this strange land.

Many of the images are barely recognizable as our planet. Others you don't want to recognize as something we've done to each other and ourselves. Herzog narrates in that odd, beautiful Bavarian accent of his, but the narration is minimal. Mostly he uses classical music pieces from Wagner, Schubert, Verdi and others. It's a really extraordinarily transportational experience, as Herzog takes us to another land and an often breathtaking and heartbreaking journey. Another filmmaker could've easily made this movie feel exploitative of the war, but Herzog makes it allegorical. He shows us ourselves by trying to show us something else. He plays on our emotions and our imaginations, making the movie even more impactful than it would've been as a straight documentary about the war.

I found myself speechless and slightly disturbed by the movie, in a good way. It's quietly operatic, contemplative without being boring or too heady. It's a simple movie. Extraordinary in every way. One of Herzog's best, and that's really saying something.

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