Some people can't make their wildest dreams come true simply because they don't try hard enough. Laziness is an essential part of human nature, yes, but who are we to say that we cannot overcome it? Werner Herzog understood this and was inspired by an Irishman who went by the name of Fitzcarraldo; a resident of Peru, but not necessarily a native. It was this inspiration that led to the making of one of his biggest and most deeply-felt motion pictures yet; "Fitzcarraldo", named after the underappreciated man who was a rare dreamer who sought to make his romanticized visions of heroism and fame reality. I've not seen many films where a dreamer had to endure quite as much as the titular Fitzcarraldo - or Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, if you prefer the name he was born to, or Fitz, as his adoring mistress called him -. But then again, that's the magic of a Herzog film; he can take you to places you've never been to or seen before, for prolonged periods of time, and immerse you in the people that find themselves there. Herzog is a dreamer; this is his grand spectacle.
As the film opens, a man dressed rather fancily in white hat and coat approaches an Opera House with a woman that he has brought along with him. He is Fitzcarraldo (Klaus Kinski), and the woman is Molly (Claudia Cardinale); and they have just come a long ways to see a single show. They are allowed into the House, and we finally understand why Fitzcarraldo was so desperate to attend the performance. After the show, he confronts wealthy individuals who he anticipates might be potential investors or curious parties in regards to his dream - to build a giant opera house in Iquitos, where he is living at the moment. Fitzcarraldo loves the opera, and he allows the music to enter his body at will and circulate right through it; it wouldn't be too hard to believe that he might just have what it takes to turn his passion into something more, something bigger, and something of far greater importance than a mere obsession.
The rich scoff at his dreams, spit in his face, socially; and say he will never succeed in achieving his goals. Fitzcarraldo isn't ready to believe this, but he accepts the reality of the situation; you need money, and you need a lot of business partners. Those are two things that he lacks, and so he cannot build the opera house quite yet. But, he is determined; and so he seeks out resources in the way of Peru's most profitable industry, rubber. Sadly, rubber trees are limited, and he must seek them out for himself if he wishes to make any money off his findings; he will need transportation, and plenty of members within a work force. That is where the iconic steamboat comes in; an impressive vessel that Fitzcarraldo purchases and renovates so that he can make the trip into dangerous territories (and rapids) in order to access the rubber trees. He rounds up a crew, and in no time, he's on his way.
But the waters that he treads are deep and apprehensive. The area is infamous for the primitive tribes that inhabit the shores; perhaps because they haven't let a single soul pass yet. But maybe Fitzcarraldo and his interest in the grand Opera will work a sort of magic on these underdeveloped beings; and so it does. He plays the music once they have invaded the steamer, and almost instantaneously, they sink into a deep, hypnotic trance. Now, they work for Fitzcarraldo and company. But the question still remains: will the boat and the crew be able to survive the unrelenting rapids of the region? Will the rumored spiritual and more diabolical forces be at work, thus preventing the vessel from completing its journey? I don't have all the answers, or at least I don't have a good deal of them for you now, but that's mostly due to my desire to spoil at little about the film as possible. It's the kind that has to be experienced; the same goes for most of Herzog's earlier (and even later) works. He's an incredible man, and this is an incredible movie; it surpasses the level of mere movie magic. It is inspiring, but all too real to resonate with the mainstreamers that typically fall head over heels in love with its kind.
The production was reportedly tense; and it tested the heart and soul of both Herzog and Kinski, who was said to be an unpleasant person to work with, at times. It is said that Kinski would overreact about silly matters off-stage, and that his rage upset the extras that were playing the Indian tribesmen-and-women of the film. But you know what they say: some of the best movies are not easily made, and such is the case here. Though the production and filming were both apparently heart-wrenching in their own little ways, the movie was completed, and so was the steamboat's journey. By the end, we feel both happiness and sadness; happiness, because we have just experienced an honest and down-to-earth portrayal of a mad dreamer, and sadness, because he almost returns home empty-handed. Although then, Herzog makes a bold move and adds on to that conclusion with a few absurd but uplifting images; in which a much happier and more uplifting ending is supplied.
The quality of the film doesn't necessarily matter; as you probably already know it even if you haven't yet seen the actual movie in its entirety. Kinski is, as always, riveting; and Herzog's direction is typically fearless, and his images genuinely moving. Being a film that spans two hours and a half in length, this is a sprawling epic that makes use of one location and many provocative, resonant sights. It's a very scenic sort of movie; not unusual for Herzog, who loves nature and just about everything about it, and I loved how he made use of the wildlife of Peru, such as pigs and fish that will eat large wads of cash. There are also horses that drink beer; although it's a known fact that the creatures love that stuff. Nevertheless, my point is this: Herzog is in touch with all his inner feelings here, and this is one of my all-time favorites, not only from him, but from cinema in a whole. It's a definitive masterpiece that should just about sum up what I love best about the movies; all in due time. There is a documentary on the making of the film titled "Burden of Dreams"; the title defining the message of "Fitzcarraldo". I will see that documentary; because I could use a better understanding of a film that comes with such divine and impeccable whimsy.