December, 1560. Gonzalo Pizarro leads his band of explorers-cum-treasure-hunters-cum-soldiers out of the Peruvian Andes. Weighed down by the out of place trappings of modern warfare and ludicrous luxury items, the tiny band is dwarfed by its surroundings and chillingly out of place. On the fringes of the group stands a man wearing an incongruous bright pink shirt, a battered helmet, and a strange set of armor that seems to consist entirely of studded leather straps. When he moves, he leans backwards and walks stiffly, his body clearly ravaged by a difficult, violent life. Mostly, though, he watches, his enormous green eyes taking in the fear, malleability and desperation around him, while his impossibly broad, feminine lips embrace their permanent sneer. Like he does, we knew immediately that his time will come.
This man is Don Lope de Aguirre, the title character of what is arguably Werner Herzog'sgreatest film. Played by the inimitable Klaus Kinski, Aguirre dominates the film in every way, effortlessly manipulating the men around him by quietly turning his own ambitions into theirs. Despite Kinski's wild eyes and the character's eventual eruption, there's a surprising subtlety and intelligence to Aguirre, who grows in complexity with each viewing. Though at first he appears to be nothing but a terrifying, ambitious madman (the film's title, Aguirre, the Wrath of God, comes from Aguirre's own description of himself), repeated viewings reveal much more about the character, and shed further light on his companions.