Fitzcarraldo is the story of a man who wants to build an opera in the jungle. He is an Irish entrepreneur (his real name is Fitzgerald, but that was hard for the locals to pronounce) in the jungles of Peru who has had a few different schemes, none of which have really been profitable, but he has a dream, a passion, and a burning ambition to make it happen.
He had tried to build a railroad over the Andes, and then got into ice production, and finally tries his hand at the rubber trade. All of the best tracts of land have been taken up, and so his plan is to buy a tract of land that is thought unreachable due to impassable rapids on the river that leads to the tract. So Fitzcarraldo’s plan is to get a steamboat, sail it up a parallel river and then portage the boat over the hills to the other side, sail back up the river and exploit the rich rubber region. He needs the help of the local natives to do it, which they offer for reasons which only become clear by the end.
It’s a beautifully shot and directed movie. The shot of the steamboat being dragged up the side of the mountain, almost sailing up it, is the shot that will stick with me. The jungle is gorgeous.
Klaus Kinski is the lead, and he plays the role like a maniac. He has an extremely expressive face, one that communicates the obsession in his heart, for the opera. Fighting against all odds, you really want him to win out and be successful in his venture so that he can have his opera.
Fitzcarraldo is an excellent movie, if for no other reason that it will show you in graphic detail the meaning of the existentialist philosophy, that pervades the world we live in.
*SPOILERS AHEAD- Don’t read, unless you never plan on seeing the movie, have already seen the movie, or, like my mother-in-law, won’t be hurt by reading the spoilers since you will forget it by the time you see the movie.
But in the end, it’s all pointless. It’s an existentialist movie at heart, which teaches its viewers that nature is random and capricious, that forces outside of our control can and do destroy all our plans, and that the only thing in the end that matters is the expression of self- the defining act that shouts to the world, HERE I AM! Even if Fitzcarraldo wastes all his money, and that of his investors, just so he can engage in that one act, that one moment of transcendental joy, it’s all worth it.
But even if Fitzcarraldo achieves his moment, what then? How can he continue after that? His business is ruined, cannibalized for his opera, his moment. After the moment is over, what then? But of course, to ask the question is to compromise, to become the slave of nature. Just as to live, to make all the compromises and to do all the service for others that is necessary just to live in this world, all is to be the slave of nature, and the only way out is suicide. Indeed, suicide is the only act that can truly define the individual, the only true act of rebellion and defiance possible. All else ends in defeat.
And so, Fitzcarraldo is a movie about suicide. It never says that it is, of course, but it is. Just like so many of our teen movies, our romances, our dramas, are all movies about suicide. Every American Beauty, every Fight Club, every movie where the villian is the establishment, and the hero is the guy who always does whatever he wants and never lets anyone tell him what to do- all end in self-destruction. It’s inevitable. Nature is our enemy, you see, whatever the environmentalists say. Nobody goes back to nature, nobody. They war against nature, against society, against all the requirements just for living. For those who view this world as all that there is, this world is the enemy, but this world cannot be defeated. It will enslave you, it will require, as the price for your survival, your soul, your individuality. You can spend your life in drudging slavery in a factory or a cubicle or a welfare line, or you can defy the world, rebel against your slavery and kill yourself.
People kill themselves through drink, through drugs, through the mindless pursuit of sex or money or some other pleasure. Some actually do the deed.
Of course, there’s another option. The Christian knows that this world is not all that there is, and that there is life after this world. Further, what’s going on now is for the purpose of training us for the future, and so our existence is no longer pointless, and events are no longer our enemy. We have a benevolent God who, by the grace of Jesus Christ and for the sake of His blood, nurtures and cares for us, and use all things for our good, to conform us to the image of His son.