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Lessons of Darkness (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on April 7, 2013

Herzog’s look at Kuwait in the wake of what we now must unfortunately call the first Iraq War is not exactly a documentary.  Like its spiritual predecessor Fata Morgana and successor The Wild Blue Yonder (both far less effective) it combines documentary footage with heightened narration, suggesting that what we’re witnessing is so strange and hard to process that it must be another world from a science fiction tale.

But what it is in actuality is one of the closest things to Hell on Earth ever captured on film.  If the landscapes — beautifully photographed with sweeping, elegant helicopter shots — look like the surface of an alien planet, it’s because they are devastated by man’s folly.  Forests burned to the ground, huge gushing geysers of oil, fields turned black, debris littered everywhere, and of course those heart-stopping pillars of fire.  The latter made all the more surreal by the giant machinery battling them, looking like massive robots controlled by their spacesuited masters.

For all the awesome carnage of the apocalypse on display, however, I think the image that horrified me the most was one of the simplest.  A long pan over tables covered with a terrifying array of implements of torture.  Some of them still caked with blood.  It’s a frighteningly inventive collection, including a toaster and what appears to be a waffle iron.  In a Herzog documentary, there is room for doubt that what we’re seeing (or hearing) is truth.  Perhaps Herzog himself assembled this gruesome display.  I hope so.  I hope these awful things were not actually used on people.  But I’m sure at least some of them were.

Some of things he says (and the narration is actually rather sparse, letting the visions speak for themselves) are clearly false, some are more ambiguous.  We see a woman and her child, speaking.  Herzog’s translation is that a soldier crushed the boy’s head with a boot and he hasn’t spoken a word since besides “Mother, I don’t ever want to learn to speak.”  Are these her true words?  Maybe, maybe not.  But as always, Herzog expresses what he calls the ecstatic truth… the thing that may not have actually happened, but tells the true story nonetheless.  Rating: Very Good (82)

IMDb
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2 Responses to “Lessons of Darkness (rewatch)”

  1. JamDenTel said

    When you get a chance, check out HAPPY PEOPLE: A YEAR IN THE TAIGA. Herzog didn’t actually make it, but he re-edited it from a Russian series and added his narration, which is, as always, excellent.

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