That term first came to my mind when, as a child, I’d try to say “stream of consciousness” and end up with “brainflow.” It seems to fit here.

Welcome to the ramblings of my mind. (For now, these ones revolve mostly around films.)

Rescue Dawn

Saturday, November 1st, 2008 8:27 pm—Film

Rescue Dawn (USA 2007, Action/Adventure/Drama/War), Writer/Director: Werner Herzog

I’ll be honest—I rented Rescue Dawn because Christian Bale is in it. I thought I’d have to struggle through long action sequences just to take in another of his compelling performances. But it was nothing like what I expected. It’s an extraordinary film unlike any war movie I’ve ever seen.

Rescue Dawn tells the true story of Dieter Dengler (Bale), a German-American pilot who is shot down over Laos in 1965 during his first mission. He is captured and, after refusing to sign a document condemning the United States, tortured and taken to a prison camp. There, he meets other prisoners of war, some who have been held for several years. And Dengler quickly sets about devising a plan to escape.

The film stands out so much because it’s a fresh telling of a man’s experiences in war, uncluttered by political or even structural agenda. Sometimes the film moves slowly. Other times, particularly towards the end, things get more exciting. But it never feels manipulative. Everything serves to show what Dengler really went through. And it’s a lot. Yet despite the horrors he faces, nothing deters Dengler or causes him to lose hope. It isn’t a show of naïve optimism; it’s fierce determination from someone who has lived through the ravages of war and still believes that “the man who will threaten me hasn’t been born yet.”

It would be hard to believe a person could retain their positivity, let alone sense of humour and charisma, in those circumstances. Except that Bale’s portrayal is based on the rigorously researched Dengler depicted in Werner Herzog’s 1997 documentary, Little Dieter Needs to Fly. The writer/director did his homework, and it shows in Rescue Dawn.

Beyond the insights Herzog and Bale give into Dengler’s character, the film is captivating because of the director’s technical and artistic gifts. Herzog is equally adept at following action as he is at capturing still, poetic moments. The film includes many beautiful touches and observations about life, like the scrawny dog who parades in front of the starving prisoners on his hind legs, hoping to be rewarded with a scrap of food. The imagery and rich symbolism in Rescue Dawn are rare in today’s films, particularly North American ones.

I feel like I’ve discovered a new world of filmmaking in Herzog. The only thing I’d heard about him before renting Rescue Dawn was that his 2005 documentary, Grizzly Man, about grizzly bear activist Timothy Treadwell, was outstanding (thanks TS!). It took me a couple years to get to it, but I’m about to watch Grizzly Man tonight, as soon as this post is up. I’m going to take a chance and recommend it now, though. The odds are good.

3 Responses

  1. Cassandra

    Love the new site Amanda! I’m very glad to hear you’ve discovered Herzog. I worship at the shrine of Herzog. I just watched Rescue Dawn and it was fantastic. Sad, funny, brutal – everything you’d expect from his films. The thing to remember about Hertzog is that his films start bad and they just get worse 🙂 Watch the little “making of” docs that come on the DVDs to see the insanity first hand, then go back and watch his Kinski films. Fantastic!

    Great review and I look forward to hearing what you think about Grizzly Man. Cheers!

  2. Anson

    You’re about to enter a world of awesome. Herzog as a filmmaker and human being is simply… heroic. Here is my all time favourite clip of Herzog, ruminating on the obscenity of the jungle, filmed as he was forcing his film crew to drag a full scale riverboat over a mountain:

  3. admin

    Thanks you two! Sorry for the delayed response… a few technical glitches had to be ironed out. I haven’t seen a lot of Herzog’s films, but from what I have seen – and read – his films are outstanding because, as you say, he’s a heroic human being. His focus isn’t just on filmmaking, but on philosophy, psychology, sociology, the human condition, nature, etc. Film is just one way he explores the world.

    I LOVED Grizzly Man. It was incredibly inspiring. I was blown away by what Herzog revealed simply by allowing Treadwell to contradict himself. He didn’t abuse voiceover to pound the message home. He just let Treadwell uncover his reality and expose his failings and complexities. My favourite part was when Treadwell went on about the tragic loss of the bee, only to exclaim seconds later with childlike glee that it was still alive. Maybe that movie deserves its own write-up, now that I think back on it…

    Gotta watch Aguirre: The Wrath of God, soon.

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