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Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972) - Plot Summary Poster

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Summaries

  • In the 16th century, the ruthless and insane Don Lope de Aguirre leads a Spanish expedition in search of El Dorado.

  • A few decades after the destruction of the Inca empire, a Spanish expedition leaves the mountains of Peru and goes down the Amazon river in search of gold and wealth. Soon, they come across great difficulties and Don Aguirres, a ruthless man who cares only about riches, becomes their leader. But will his quest lead them to "the golden city", or to certain destruction?

  • South America, 16th Century. Spanish explorer Don Lope de Aguirre leads an expedition down the Amazon river to find the fabled city of El Dorado. Beset on all sides by unfriendly natives, the journey will turn out to be a treacherous one. An even bigger enemy to the party is themselves, as they start to turn on each other. Even more problematic is their leader, who is quite oppressive and does not appear to be entirely sane.

    grantss
  • It's 1560; the Spanish Empire's reach has come across South America. Now leading an expedition on the Amazon River, a group of Conquistadors are now looking for the legendary city of gold: El Dorado. Descending into madness in the depths of the South American jungle, the Conquistadors will soon find a fearless and unforgiving leader in Lope de Aguirre; and from him they will suffer the Wrath of God.

    Johnny
  • A band of ruthless conquistadors venture up a river in sixteenth century South America in search of fortune only to find that the journey rapidly becomes more perilous. Morale and feelings of loyalty to Spain deteriorate thus power struggles ensue amongst the soldiers.


Spoilers

The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

Synopsis

  • Opening titles lay out the background of the story. After the conquest and plundering of the Inca Empire by Spain, natives invented the legend of El Dorado, supposedly situated in the headwaters of the Amazon. In 1560 a Spanish expedition set off from Peru. This is the story of the expedition based on the surviving diary of the monk Gaspar de Carvajal.

    As the film opens a narrator informs us that it is the 25th of December. The expedition has just passed the final peak of the Andes Mountains and is afforded its first glimpse at the jungle. We see hundreds descending into the Amazonian jungle- Spaniards in full armor, ladies in courtly dress, a monk, and hundreds of enslaved Indians carrying food, cannons, sedans and other supplies. The expedition reaches the bottom of the mountains. While many rest, Don Lope de Aguirre (Klaus Kinski) and Gonzalo Pizarro (Alejandro Repullés) stand looking at the river and discuss what faces them. Aguirre maintains that no one can conquer that river, but Pizarro believes that their journey will be easier from this point forward. Aguirre says, No, from here we are all going under. We see only the raging river for nearly a minute.

    Their break is not long. The group quickly begins their trek through the jungle. They begin to make their way through the jungle. On his horse, Pizarro struggles to cut through the branches with his sword; Indians struggle to carry the cannon, sedan and other goods. As they struggle in the mud the Indians are accosted by Aguirre for nearly dropping the sedan carrying one of the lady travelers. The narrator states that the Indians are useless as leaders and are dropping off like flies because of colds caused by the dramatic climate changes. The expedition stops and sets up camp near the river. Pizarro delivers a speech to the entire group. They cannot continue like this- the terrain is too difficult, rations are almost depleted, and they cannot hope of finding a populated area for a long time. As such he has changed his plan. Rafts will be built and manned by 40 men- these men will seek food, information about hostile Indians, and directions to El Dorado. They will have one week to return. If they don't return, they will be assumed dead, and the remainder of the expedition will march back the way they came. Don Pedro de Ursua (Ruy Guerra) will be in charge of the group. His mistress Donna Inez (Helena Rojo) will accompany him. Don Lope de Aguirre will be second in command, his daughter will accompany him. Brother Gaspar de Carvajal (Del Negro) will go to take the word of God to the pagans, and Don Fernando (Peter Berling) will represent the royal house of Spain. Pizarro says no one who wasn't selected should feel rejected.

    The group sets off on three rafts; each raft is rowed by Indians. The Spanish cast wary looks as they can hear only the raging river and the calls of the birds in the jungle surrounding them. One of the rafts gets stuck in an eddy on the other side of the river. As they are swept about in continuous circles, the remaining two rafts land on the other side of the river. They watch, clustered in a group, shouting and gesturing at the other group. Their advice, however, cannot be heard.

    Ursua and Aguirre discuss the trapped men. Ursua wants to help the men, but Aguirre disagrees. He does not want to stop to help them. Ursua maintains that he is still the one giving orders. As Ursua walks away Aguirre softly says, Is that so?

    Ursua walks over to Armando, one of the only men who will stay loyal to him, and instructs him to form a rescue party. He is to take as many men and supplies as he needs and cross the river to retrieve the trapped party. The newly formed rescue group ventures into the jungle to find a point where they can cross the river. The remaining men begin to set up camp, putting up coverings made from trees they've cut down; the women relax, and the horse gets water. Darkness falls and the group is gathered around a campfire. They discuss their trapped comrades. Several shots sound. One asks if they are being signaled, another mentions that perhaps it is a battle.

    Morning comes and the trapped men are dead. The river is calm now and several of the men, led by the monk, venture curiously into the river. The rescue party has just arrived and looks down at the raft, now full of only dead bodies. One notes that three men are missing- two Indians and a Spaniard. Armando directs the rescue party to return to the main body. Be wary of the Indians, he warns, the jungle is infested. One man in the party lags a few feet behind the others. His foot is caught in a trap and he is silently swept up into a tree. A comrade turns to look for him, and retraces his steps. Blood drops onto his helmet and the leaf in front of him. He looks up, and is terror struck. He turns to catch up with the group and runs screaming, Indians! Help, Help!

    At the camp Aguirre is unnoticed by Carvajal and Ursua as they walk past. They discuss the burial of the murdered men. Carvajal thinks the men must be buried according to a proper Christian burial. Ursua agrees and allows him to begin preparations for the ceremony. The men have passed. Aguirre calls over Perucho, one of his devotees, and mentions that the cannon is looking rusty. Perucho nods and walks over to the aforementioned cannon. Whispering La, la, la, la, he blows on a ashy light and looks around. Seeing no one he shifts the cannon slightly and ignites it. The raft and the men who were left on it are blown to bits.

    Inez sits halfway in her sedan and addresses Ursua. She reminds him that he knows who is responsible, and if he is allowed to get away with this- what's next? Ursua nods, but tells her they have bigger problems- Indians- theyre everywhere and no one wants to die like the men on the raft. Aguirre wouldn't rebel against the Spanish crown. Inez is skeptical and reminds him that they are no longer in Castile.

    Aguirre speaks with his daughter Flores. He found a tiny sloth and shares it with her. It is a little animal that sleeps the entire day.

    Two Spaniards sleep on rocks at the rivers edge. One awakens with a start to realize that the river has flooded and wakes up his comrade. The narrator begins: the river flooded fifteen feet last night. The rafts were swept away. Men begin scouting wood to build new rafts. Iron is collected to forge nails to help hold it together. Aguirre pulls a lifeless Indian from the water and drops him shortly thereafter. Guzman shakes an Indian, demanding an answer- will he run away if Guzman loosens his chains? He gets no answer from the silent slave. A man walks by. Guzman turns his attention to the passerby and accuses him of taking his pot. The black slave advises a conquistador not to use a tree for the raft. His advice is rejected- the advisee is afraid to venture further into the hostile jungle. As this goes on, Ursua emerges. He asks one man what he is doing, but receives no answer. Another only responds with, everyone is doing it. No one will tell him who ordered them to begin building a raft. Ursua sees Aguirre but says nothing to him. The women observe the men as they work. Flores asks Inez, What does it all mean? Inez tells her to be quiet. It's her father's fault.

    The men are gathered around Ursua. Ursua speaks: He has decided that they will return to Pizarro. Aguirre is heard in the background, It is not my habit to retreat. Ursua continues: They must hike because the current is too strong. Another declares the plan is suicide- they'll all be killed by Indians! Ursua ignores the interjection- they will return to Pizarro, whatever the cost. Aguirre begins again, Shit on Pizarro- we can conquer without him. Perucho reminds them that this is why they built the rafts this morning. Aguirre calls Cortez to their attention. The great Spanish conquerer only became so renowned because he disregarded his orders. Ursua repeatedly orders Silence! But to no avail. He orders Aguirre put in chains, but is shot in the abdomen. Inez rushes to his side. His loyal Armando draws a sword, but he too is shot. Aguirre orders silence asking if anyone else wishes to join Ursua and Armando. Everyone stands silently. One begins to speak wondering what will happen now? Perhaps there are waterfalls downriver, questions another. What does it matter so long as they get closer to El Dorado, interjects another. Another man notices Ursuas fist is clenched. Surely Ursua will be killed, he mentions, but no one is willing to help him.

    An Indian plays a flute while Aguirre watches him.

    Armando is confined to chains in a jail constructed out of tree branches. Inez comforts Ursua.

    Monk Caspar de Carvajal sits on a rock at the river's edge. Inez approaches him. He is their last hope; Aguirre will kill Ursua and Armando. Carvajal can only console her a little- God is always on the side of the strong.

    Aguirre approaches Armando's cell. We want you on our side. We need men like you. He circles the cell, thwarting Armando's attempts to avoid his gaze. Think about it- but not too long. Aguirre gathers the men for a speech. They've rid themselves of the troublemakers, now it is time to elect a leader. The choice is clear- Don Fernando de Guzman. Guzman appears confused by the nomination. Perucho immediately set forth a formal proposal among the group to elect Guzman. Aguirre glares at each of the men until they reluctantly raise their hands and the decision is unanimous. Perucho elects Aguirre to remain second in command, the group agrees.

    Balthasar, one of the Indian slaves, speaks with Flores. He has survived plagues and floods, but what the Spanish have done to him is far worse. They named him Balthasar, his name was Runo Rimac. He was a prince before, and no one could look him in the eye. Now he is a slave like his people were. He feels sorry for Flores though, because there is no escape from this. The men sit and eat. Inez brings Armando some food to eat in his cell. While feeding him through the bars of his jail, Perucho hovers around them taunting them with a steady, la, la, la, la, la. Armando inquires quietly about how Ursua is doing. Inez does not reply.

    Aguirre rises to address the group again. Their position must be made legal. He orders Gaspar de Carvajal to read a document. Gaspar reads- The article addresses the king. Until yesterday these men considered themselves in the king's service. Fate, Gods Help, and their own work carried them down the river, but now they are 200 miles from Pizarro. Now they will share none of the fruits of their conquest with the Spanish crown. We Rebel Until Death. May our hands perish and our tongues dry up if this is not so. The house of Habsburg is overthrown and Phillip the Second is dethroned. By this declaration you are annihilated. Guzman is king of El Dorado. God Bless.

    Aguirre seizes the document from Carvajal. He declares that fortune smiles on the brave and spits on the coward. The reluctant King Guzman is shown his throne- merely two pieces of wood with a bit of velvet thrown over it. Scoffing, he asks if this is really to be his throne. Aguirre assures him it is as he forcibly seats him in it. Guzman sits there and begins to tear up. Aguirre inspects the jail cell. Armando has escaped, and the guard is dead.

    Guzman sits on a bench in the river, washed and massaged by two men. Aguirre comes up behind him and warns that so long as Ursua lives, his life will be in danger. Ursua still has sympathizers within the group. Guzman declares that so long as he is king, law will prevail. There should be a trial. Fine, hisses Aguirre. Try him. Then kill him.

    Gaspar de Carvajal leads the trial. Perucho testifies that Ursua will say nothing. No one can take what is clenched in his fist, to do so they would have to cut off his hand. Balthasar testifies that he and other Indians have received money from Ursua; Okello testifies that he has received money as well though he is not really sure as to why. Ursua is called on for a defense. Defiant, however, he says nothing. Inez sits next to him. She rises to speak. Back in Spain they paid their servant. Surely they should do the same here, even if they are Indians. Carvajal dismisses her calling her a confused child, no one will hold her testimony against her.

    Carvajal speaks. He declares that Ursua has been found guilty of treason and will be sentenced to death. Guzman, sitting behind him on a throne confirms the verdict and a confident Aguirre begins to walk away. He turns around, eyes wide and raging, as Guzman begins speaking again. Today is the anniversary of the last moor leaving Spain. He will grant Ursua clemency, but he forfeits all rights as a citizen. His portion will be divided- half for the church, half among the best soldiers. The following day the party continues down the river on their newly built raft. Ursua reclines by Inez, he still refuses to speak, and has begun to lose his vision. It's noon and the party spots a fire on the banks of the river. A village is burning. Aguirre sets up an attack. Okello, the black slave, is stripped save for a loin cloth, so he can scare the Indians. The group lands and, prodded by the Spaniards behind him, Okello reluctantly runs in front of them into the village. The men grab at fruit, and are admonished- they must conquer. King Guzman sits on the edge of a platform eating ripe fruit. As they discover a bucket with human skulls, and a mummy, they realize they are in a village where cannibals lived. Grabbing what little food they can, the disturbed group quickly returns to the raft and begins again to venture down the river.

    The river comes to a near standstill. Weary adventurers seek refuge under newly built thatched roofs. Inez warns Aguirre as he walks past- She knows his intent to kill Urusa, and God in heaven will punish him for it. Silence falls over the raft as they see Indians on the distant shore. One man is shot and dies. A perturbed Aguirre orders the men to shoot at anything to break the ominous silence. Noting the men are stilled unsettled, Aguirre orders an Indian slave to play the flute for them.

    Two Indians, a man and a woman, paddle over to the raft in a canoe. The Spaniards are wary of a trap, but pull them up onto the raft. The man explains with Balthasar as a translator that they have long awaited the foretold arrival of the white man with sticks that throw lightning.

    Guzman listens, but is quickly distracted and focuses only on the gold pendant he rips from the mans neck. They demand to know where the gold came from. The Indian's only answer is that gold is father downriver. Gaspar de Carvajal steps forward to show the pair a Bible. He holds it up explaining that this is the word of God. He hands it to the man, who takes it and, confused, holds it against his ear. He tells the Spaniards that he hears nothing. Accused of blasphemy, he is killed. Carvajal comments that it is difficult to convert these heathens.

    Given hope the group begins to dream of the riches of El Dorado. Gold abounds, they have governorships, provinces and Okello even dreams of freedom. While tracing out a map Guzman declares that all the land to the left and to the right is the property of El Dorado. Every day they drift his kingdom grows larger.

    Okello fixes dinner for Guzman- fish stuffed with fruits and cooked over a fire. Upon being served, Guzman whines that he has no salt and holds out his cup as if expecting wine at a fine dinner. The men behind him however, are counting out the last grains they have. Today there are only ten grains per man. The horse is frightened and begins to thrash around kicking and stomping. Angry that his meal was disturbed, Guzman orders the horse off the raft. The men shove the horse off of the raft and ignore its attempt to get back on. The horse swims to the bank and stands on land the raft floats away. Carvajal muses with Perucho, that Guzman is a dead man. The sight of a horse could scare away armies of Indians, and the horse was meat for a week. Shortly thereafter Guzman is found dead just outside the raft's outhouse.

    Ursuas fate is sealed by Guzman's death. He is taken by Perucho and two others inland via canoe. Here, they find a tree barely able to hold his weight on its spindly branches, hoist him up so they can tie the rope down, and let him hang. Perucho sits on a branch below him and eats while reciting nonsense, waiting for Ursua to die.

    With all of its remaining members on board the raft keep moving slowly down the river. They approach a new group of Indians who, according to Balthasars translation, shout, Meat, Meat! Meat is floating by! As the Spaniards land, arrows fly. Spaniards shoot at Indians and light the village on fire. Starving men are soon distracted and begin to lick up salt from the ground. Suddenly a beautifully adorned Inez emerges and walks calmly and alone into the jungle. The attack is complete, and Perucho reports to Aguirre. They followed Inez's tracks a half mile into the jungle but saw neither her nor the Indians. The men accompanying him panicked at the silence and returned to the camp. As he reports a voice comes from the background. A man is plotting to return to Pizarro. He has counted the bends in the river and will travel by night and hide by day to avoid the Indians. Aguirre hears the traitor and comments to Perucho that the man speaking is a head taller than himself, and that should soon change. Perucho walks quietly over and slices the oblivious man's head off mid-sentence. Aguirre speaks- he is the greatest traitor, there will be no greater. The earth bows to his will. Anyone who attempts to leave will die. The group returns to the raft to continue downstream. As they float along, two more men are picked off by the arrows of Indians.

    Gaspar de Carvajal speaks with Aguirre about morale. They see nothing but death but never see their enemy. Perhaps even El Dorado is an illusion. Aguirre, however, will not have it. Mexico was no illusion, and if they give up then someone else will come along later and take it. Power and Fame are riches as well. Carvajal muses that Aguirre is leading them to their destruction- perhaps even doing so intentionally.

    Weeks later unbearable suffering is rampant among the men. Many are struck with fever and hallucinations due to hunger and illness. Okello sees a ship with sails in a tree. Carvajal dismisses this as a hallucination. Aguirre, however, is convinced that they will retrieve the ship and go to the Atlantic. Carvajal dares to defy him- the men are sick and near dying. They will not go with Aguirre. Okello is struck by an arrow, then Carvajal. They believe, however, that these are illusions and don't move. Flores walks to the edge of the raft and is struck by an arrow as she looks into the trees in front of her. Aguirre walks over and takes her in his arms. She dies quietly and motionless in Aguirres arms.

    Monkeys suddenly appear all over the raft and Aguirre follows them around the raft. He speaks- He will reach the Atlantic, take Trinidad from Spain, and Mexico from Cortez. They will have all of New Spain. He will marry his own daughter and found a pure dynasty. They will rule the entire continent together and endure. The film closes with Aguirre being the only person clearly alive. The camera circles him until the credits roll.

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