Aguirre: The Wrath of God

Brief Intro

Werner Herzog’s 1972 epic historical drama, “Aguirre: The Wrath of God,” follows Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century as they embark on a treacherous journey through the Amazon in search of the mythical city of El Dorado. The film is renowned for its breathtaking cinematography, Klaus Kinski’s unforgettable performance, and its exploration of human ambition and madness.

Literary Devices Used in Aguirre: The Wrath of God

Here are ten literary devices used in the film, each illustrated with specific scenes.

1. Symbolism

Movie SceneDevice Example
Opening sequence with the descent down the mountainThe perilous journey symbolizes the descent into madness.
Aguirre’s final scene with monkeysThe monkeys symbolize the futility and isolation of Aguirre’s quest.

2. Foreshadowing

Movie SceneDevice Example
The discussion of El Dorado’s riches early in the filmForeshadows the eventual greed and chaos among the group.
Ursúa’s warning about the dangers of the riverForeshadows the group’s eventual downfall.

3. Irony

Movie SceneDevice Example
Aguirre’s proclamation of founding a new empireIrony in his failure and descent into madness.
The priest’s blessing of the expeditionIronic given the unholy acts committed by the group.

4. Metaphor

Movie SceneDevice Example
The dense jungle surrounding the groupMetaphor for the unknown and unconquerable nature of their quest.
The raft on the riverRepresents the unstable and perilous path of ambition.

5. Imagery

Movie SceneDevice Example
The lush, oppressive Amazonian jungleVivid imagery of nature’s overwhelming power.
The desolate raft floating aimlesslyVisual representation of isolation and doom.

6. Personification

Movie SceneDevice Example
The river ‘devouring’ the raftPersonification of nature’s threat.
The jungle ‘watching’ the expeditionPersonification creating a sense of constant danger.

7. Allegory

Movie SceneDevice Example
The entire expedition as a quest for El DoradoAllegory for human greed and ambition.
Aguirre’s dominion over his groupAllegory for tyrannical rule and its consequences.

8. Hyperbole

Movie SceneDevice Example
Aguirre’s grandiose speechesExaggeration of his delusions of grandeur.
The depiction of the city of El DoradoExaggerated myth of immense wealth and riches.

9. Allusion

Movie SceneDevice Example
References to historical figures and eventsAllusions to real conquistadors and their expeditions.
The priest’s biblical referencesAllusions to religious texts and themes.

10. Juxtaposition

Movie SceneDevice Example
The serene jungle vs. the chaotic expeditionHighlights the contrast between nature and human folly.
Aguirre’s calm demeanor vs. his violent actionsContrasts his outward appearance and inner madness.

Character Analysis Through Literary Devices

Character Studies


SymbolismAguirre is often surrounded by images of isolation and madness, symbolizing his descent.
HyperboleHis speeches are filled with exaggerated claims, highlighting his delusional ambition.


ForeshadowingUrsúa’s warnings foreshadow the group’s fate.
IronyHis initial authority is ironically undermined by Aguirre’s rebellion.


ImageryOften shown in moments of vulnerability, enhancing her symbolic role as innocence amidst chaos.
JuxtapositionHer calm demeanor contrasts with the surrounding madness, highlighting her purity.

Carvajal (The Priest)

AllusionHis religious references allude to the hypocrisy of the mission.
IronyHis holy position contrasts with his unholy actions and complicity.

Character Dynamics

The relationships between characters in “Aguirre: The Wrath of God” are central to the narrative and themes.

  • Aguirre and Ursúa: The power struggle between Aguirre and Ursúa drives much of the plot, illustrating themes of ambition and authority.
  • Aguirre and Inez: Aguirre’s protective yet possessive behavior towards Inez highlights his complex character and the theme of control.
  • The Expedition Group: The group’s interactions, from camaraderie to betrayal, underscore the theme of human nature and survival.

Thematic Analysis

Ambition and Madness

SymbolismThe jungle represents the unknown and unconquerable, mirroring Aguirre’s inner madness.
HyperboleAguirre’s grandiose plans and speeches highlight his delusional ambition.

Nature vs. Civilization

JuxtapositionThe serene jungle vs. the chaotic expedition underscores the clash between nature and human civilization.
ImageryVivid descriptions of the jungle emphasize nature’s dominance over human attempts at control.

Isolation and Despair

ImageryThe desolate raft floating aimlessly on the river captures the isolation of the characters.
PersonificationThe jungle ‘watching’ the expedition creates a sense of constant, oppressive isolation.

Cinematic Techniques That Enhance Literary Devices

Visual and Sound Techniques

Literary DeviceTechniqueExplanation
SymbolismWide shots of the jungleEmphasize the vast, indifferent nature surrounding the characters.
ForeshadowingOminous musicSignals impending doom and highlights key moments of tension.
IronyContrasting lightingBright scenes during dark events underscore the irony of the situation.

Key Scene Analysis

Scene Selection

Opening Sequence

  • YouTube Link: Opening Sequence
  • Breakdown: The opening descent down the mountain sets the tone for the entire film. The imagery and symbolism here foreshadow the perilous journey and the characters’ descent into madness.

Aguirre’s Final Scene

  • YouTube Link: Aguirre’s Final Scene
  • Breakdown: This scene captures the culmination of Aguirre’s madness and isolation. The use of imagery (the monkeys on the raft) and symbolism (Aguirre’s final stand) highlights the futility of his quest.


To wrap up, here’s a quick interactive quiz to test your understanding of the literary devices used in “Aguirre: The Wrath of God.”


  1. Which literary device is exemplified by the jungle ‘devouring’ the raft?
  2. What does Aguirre’s final scene symbolize?
    • A) Victory
    • B) Isolation
    • C) Wealth
    • D) Power
  3. Which device is used when Aguirre makes grandiose speeches about founding an empire?
  4. The contrast between the serene jungle and the chaotic expedition is an example of:

Answers: 1-B, 2-B, 3-B, 4-C

Hope you enjoyed this deep dive into the literary brilliance of “Aguirre: The Wrath of God”! 🌟