Watch: A Video Essay on Werner Herzog’s View of Nature

Watch: A Video Essay on Werner Herzog’s View of Nature

Peru, 1981. A moustached man appears mildly shaken against a jungle
background. His speaking voice reveals a German accent
and a hint of victimized violation as he spits out his diatribe: "Nature
here is vile and base. I wouldn’t see anything erotical (sic) here. I
would see fornication and asphyxiation and choking and fighting for
survival and… growing and… just rotting away." Such was my first
introduction into the world of Werner Herzog, a director whose aesthetic
I always assumed was that of the German nihilist to Terrence Malick’s
evangelical Christian, the way of nature versus the way of grace–the
thesis of my pitch for this very montage. Indeed, Herzog makes his views
on nature clear via voiceover narration, asserting that "the common
denominator of the universe is not harmony, but chaos, hostility, and
murder." What surprised me in marathoning his filmography was finding
the similarities to Malick, not the differences. The sun-kissed lens
flare, the close-ups of insects, even an overlapping playlist of
classical music would cause anyone to (at least momentarily) mistake the
two filmmakers. And ultimately, both share the common denominator of
their central theme that man is hubristic to believe that he can conquer
nature, but where Malick finds serenity in that surrender, Herzog finds
madness and destruction. This more cautionary admiration for the likes
of Timothy Treadwell, Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, or suicidal penguins is
essential not only to his films (a more romantic version of Grizzly Man
could be one of the most dangerous films ever made), but also his own
sanity; only a person with a very grounded sense of self-preservation
could survive Klaus Kinski for more than one film. Through the jungle of
chaos, hostility and murder, Herzog ultimately emerges a humanist, for
when he praises Treadwell’s footage of animals unintentionally revealing
a look into ourselves, he might as well be talking about himself as a
filmmaker. Our hunger of violence and revenge in Into the Abyss, our need to research and document as a way of understanding our place in the universe in Encounters at the end of the World, and our inevitable desire for storytelling found in the cave paintings of Cave of Forgotten Dreams
are just a sampling of a much larger tapestry Herzog weaves in his
search for reason in the chaos of our decisions and the consequences,
which ultimately are the greater threats than nature. He admires
humanity, but against his better judgment.

Serena Bramble is a film editor whose
montage skills are an end result of accumulated years of movie-watching
and loving. Serena is a graduate from the Teledramatic Arts and
Technology department at Cal State Monterey Bay. In addition to editing,
she also writes on her blog Brief Encounters of the Cinematic Kind.

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