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Lektionen in Finsternis (1992) HD online

Lektionen in Finsternis (1992) HD online
Language: English
Category: Movie / Documentary / War
Original Title: Lektionen in Finsternis
Director: Werner Herzog
Writers: Werner Herzog
Released: 1992
Duration: 54min
Video type: Movie
This film shows the disaster of the Kuwaitian oil fields in flames, with few interviews and no explanatory narration. Hell itself is presented in such beautiful sights and music that one has to be fascinated by it.
Credited cast:
Werner Herzog Werner Herzog - Narrator (voice)


Reviews: [25]

  • avatar

    Akinohn

    Herzog has been making brilliant films since the late '60s, and frankly it's a bit of a pain in the arse keeping up with such a prolific director.

    However, if you are a fan of his features and staggering documentary work, "Lessons of/in Darkness" demands your immediate attention.

    The film is essentially a birds-eye view (often quite literally) of the plague of oil-choked death, fire, chaos and destruction that resulted from the brief but grotesquely internecine technological blitzkrieg of the Gulf War. Herzog, of course, takes particular interest in the seeming madness of the crews of mercernary American firefighters that are putting out the oil well fires across the deserts.

    Various points on the conflict and its aftermath inevitably bubble to the surface, but arise without overt proselytizing. The images do the majority of the talking.

    And they are eye-popping. Startling, frightening visuals that stand out even in the Herzog canon -- great vistas of blackness and glowing terror that would make any sci-fi director soylent green with envy. They are accompanied by little else: brief interstitials, an almost nonexistent, terribly serious Herzog narrative and a ghostly and elegiac score.

    The short interviews with individuals who suffered are heartbreaking, perhaps all the more so due to their brevity.

    See this.
  • avatar

    Garr

    Herzog's grandiose manner, sense of the operatic, and true historical events come together awe-inspiringly in this apocalyptic vision of oil fires and destruction left in the wake of the Gulf War.

    If ever a man was fitted to undertake the portrayal of destruction on such a grand scale, then Herzog is he. It would be interesting to know whether this documentary was a commission or Hertzog directed this film on a personal, artistic basis. Whatever the reason for its production, Lessons of Darkness (it's English title) is a stunning piece of work. The Kuwaiti landscape is presented in sweeping, wide angle shots making it look like the surface of an alien planet rather than the Middle East. Huge oil fires, the cratered burnt desert, dark oil spills, crumpled and abandoned machinery and war vehicles, appear in surreal and awesome parade which both take the viewer's breath away in their beauty and shock through the utter devastation.

    A central section, in which quiet footsteps walk alongside a ghastly display of torture implements, provides a shocking contrast to the images that open the film. Here the impact is smaller, more intimate but as moving.

    In the third and last part of the film, firefighters attempt to douse the oil blazes, their hoses and equipment rearing up and out in the smoke and sunshine, shining like monsters in the alien landscape.

    The sonorous music of Wagner perfectly complements a vision which is an entirely characteristic, memorable addition to Herzog's oeuvre.
  • avatar

    Rrd

    Never call Werner Herzog a dilettante. When he sets out to make a film, he's willing to die for it. Although this film could have easily been adjusted to a pure documentary of the oil fires in Kuwait after the Iraq invasion, Herzog takes it to much higher levels. War. Apocalypse. Mythical Disaster. The End of Life as we knew it. THE Struggle (and, since this is made by a dark-visioned German, we do NOT win the struggle. At best, we earn a temporary truce with the Devil.) This is perhaps the MOST BEAUTIFULLY PHOTOGRAPHED COLOR film I've EVER seen. Bar none. The scoring, as usual, is unique and perfect. "Lessons of Darkness" is atypically vague for a film in my category "Life Changers", yet I am left extremely moved by the powerful effects of an exquisite visual and audio work of Art.
  • avatar

    Ber

    I was lucky enough to catch a one-off showing of this at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and it completely floored me. Although not for everyone (as with all Herzog films), he gives us a present day apocalyptic vision, infused with biblical and mythical power that ranks as highly as any of his feature film efforts. Herzog's lush visuals reach a new peak (in particular the aerial footage), as they are accompanied by incredibly fitting music and narration. This film is as close as cinema comes to painting. If you get a chance to see this, then do not hesitate. Prepare yourself for a rush.
  • avatar

    Freaky Hook

    While Werner Herzog has stated that he looks at his 1992 film Lessons of Darkness as a work of science fiction, it shouldn't be discounted as a documentary either. But unlike the recent Wild Blue Yonder, where Herzog made a true science fiction documentary, this time the line is further blurred by making everything involving humans ambiguous as to their connections with their surroundings. Despite the locations being discernible as to where it's at, and the two interviews being indicative of where the people are possibly from, he keeps his 54 minute plunge into the Kuwait oil fields a primarily visual trip. It sometimes even felt like someone had decided to do a documentary on some civilization in the future in some obscure sci-fi novel (or, for a moment, like some wayward planet in the Dune universe). It's best then, as Herzog suggests, to take one out of context of the period, even if seeing the green-screen images (however brief) of the war conjures up immediate associations. If looking at this without the associations of the Iraq war part 1 or the Kuwait connection in it all with oil however (as with Wild Blue Yonder not associating that its 'just' NASA and underwater photography), it fills one with an immense wonder at what can be captured by a lens not bound by conventions.

    But amid the freedom that Herzog decides to use with his resources, he ends up striking his most visually compelling treatise on destruction to date. It's like he decided to take certain cues from Kubrick via 2001, and from just general nature documentaries, in order to capture the sort of alien aspect to this all. Because the act of setting these oil fields, which were left in a state of disrepair following said "fictional" war, is like facing nature off on a course against nature (fire on oil, then water on fire). There's also the element of industry that finds this way in this mix, especially because of the presence of human beings in this mix. Herzog, in avant-garde fashion (ala Dieter and Yonder) sections off the scenes with Roman numerals, and in theme and tone it does work (e.g. a part meant for showing the machines trudging around is labeled as being part of 'dinosaurs', or when the people set the oil on fire and the others are "mad" in coming in on it). And eventually what starts out as just simple, yet spatially complex, aerial takes on the tattered fields, turns into an act of seeing ruin and something that would seem incredible in an objective frame of reference.

    But that doesn't mean Herzog limits it completely to total dialog-less landscapes (which, as Herzog has said in the past, he likes to think in grandiose terms he "directs") of fire and obtuse figures fanning and producing the flames. He also gets two interviews with women who were around when the war was there- one who is given no words for what she says except that her husband was killed, another who had a child with her and who is now traumatized- and somehow this too works even out of context. I'm sure that if Herzog had wanted to, even in limited time and circumstances he was in, he could be able to work some political stance in the proceedings. His decision to keep politics or anything of the immediate recognizable in concrete terms is a wise one. Not that there isn't something concrete to seeing destruction of this magnitude. But there's an abstract quality to all of this after a while that makes it all the more real in nature, while still keeping to a control of the subject matter into something that looks out of this world, ethereal, and somehow unnatural while still being about nature all the same (hence science-reality).

    It's almost too arty for its own good in a small way, with Herzog's inter-titles and ultra-somber voice-over becoming like gravestones marking the sections of one set of madness to another. But there's also a daring here that is totally unshakable too, and from a point of view of cinematography it actually goes on par (if not occasionally seems to top) what Kubrick did in 2001 or what Lynch could've done in Dune, which is that a filmmaker uses places and objects that are of this world, but then taking the audience to a place that is also assuredly not so. It adds a level of mental discomfort, but then that's likely a big part of the point- seeing the oil burned by order of a government that's been on the news we watch every night is one thing (or rather was), but it's another to suddenly take it in another light, where in the realm of science-fiction it asks the viewer to raise questions via abstractions one might forget when taking it as complete truth. It's a hybrid film that you'd never see this in a cineplex next to the big-bang sci-fi action fare, but then most probably wouldn't want to.
  • avatar

    Gerceytone

    Lessons of darkness is one of the most captivating, hypnotic experiences I have ever witnessed. I felt like I was in a strange nightmare and in an alien world. The film is almost purely visual; it is breathtakingly shot. It feels more like science fiction than most sci-fi films ever made. Absolutely haunting.
  • avatar

    Kieel

    Lessons of Darkness (1992) looks and acts like a companion piece to Fata Morgana (1971). As with the earlier film, Lessons either captures viewers or leaves them confused and bored within the first few minutes. Early in Lessons we see an aerial shot of an unusual city. It is obviously a contemporary urban area because we see highways, traffic, stoplights, and large buildings, but it is also obvious that it is not an American city. The narrator (Herzog) announces that this city is about to be destroyed by war and the thought of this strange but vibrant place being destroyed becomes completely repugnant. Thus, Herzog succeeds here with the approach he initially planned and then abandoned in Fata Morgana. Lessons of Darkness triumphs as a mock Science Fiction story of an apocalypse that threatens all of civilization. Luckily, it doesn't take a college education to realize that the footage is shot in Iraq in the aftermath of the First Gulf War. Luckily as well, Herzog's anti-war statement does not need to be explicit to be effective. Early in the film, interviews with two Iraqi women suggest the human price of this military event. In the rest of the film, humans appear to be on the periphery of the "action" but they keep coming back to the center of our consciousness. Those who persist in their viewing will eventually encounter a chilling repetitiveness in this film (the fires are still burning!) However, that repetitiveness can become cumulative and mesmerizing. This is not a film experience for everyone, but for those who have a taste for it the film will be unforgettable.
  • avatar

    Adrietius

    This is less a documentary than it is a work of art. Herzog presents a visual symphony comparable to the grandeur of Dante.

    The cinematography of this movie is a constant presence of beauty and terror, heart-throbbing and breathtaking, still always far from pathos. Inspiring and touching throughout its full length, Herzog demonstrates the power of pictures, the essence of film or photography as a medium separate from logical understanding.

    There is no storyline to this motion picture since it defines itself as such, - not as a visual derogative of verbal expression but as a free form of expression displayed in sensuous, demanding and touching PICTURES!

    This movie is a must for any photographer or person involved in visual arts, I have seldom encountered such a sincere and demanding work of cinematography.

    In a frenzy of subjectivity this flick deserves a full 10 out of 10, I am ready to die now, thank you...
  • avatar

    Beabandis

    There is a sense with this documentary, that the middle east is part of another world altogether. It opens with a fly over of Kuwait pre-war, looking like a place far removed from this world, with its quasi-religious skyscrapers welcoming the camera as it comes over the port. Satellites are shown post-war, blown apart in a tangled mass resembling a fallen space station. Echoing a sci-fi, but with a ghostlike feeling only reality can achieve. The images are reinforced by some of the most moving music ever composed. Herzog struggles with a large lump in his throat, to clarify the situation with infrequent narration. The situation speaks for itself, no words are necessary, the images and the music combine to get as close to representing the unrepresentable as possible. I recommend Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi (1983) to fellow admires of this film, and it's message.
  • avatar

    HappyLove

    "There are deeper strata of truth in cinema, and there is such a thing as poetic, ecstatic truth. It is mysterious and elusive, and can be reached only through fabrication and imagination and stylization." - Werner Herzog

    Another apocalyptic tale from director Werner Herzog, "Lessons of Darkness" was filmed in Kuwait during the aftermath of the first Gulf War, and primarily consists of long, slow, swooping helicopter shots, all of which depict Arab landscapes covered in oil, ravaged by war and dotted with burning oil fields. The film ends with wordless shots of firefighters extinguishing flaming oil spills, before relighting them.

    The film has been accused of ignoring all political and historical context. This is partially true, but Herzog admits this himself with two strategically placed interviews in which we meet a woman who cannot speak and a son who has long lost the will to talk. The implication is that "Lessons of Darkness" is not a recounting of history but a grasp for some higher, ecstatic truth: namely that of oil obsessed white men repeatedly starting (and squelching) wars in foreign lands whilst locals suffer and are denied a voice. Today, of course, the West's Gulf War myths have been debunked and demythologized. Well known are stories about US misinformation, forged satellite photos, fake testimonies, the nurse Nayirah fiasco, the incubator lies and the fact that Saddam Hussein was a Western puppet. Even the tale of Iraqi forces setting Kuwaiti oil wells ablaze has been called into question, as a number of US soldiers have recently stepped forward and testified that they were themselves ordered to detonate explosive charges on some Kuwaiti wells.

    But Herzog is singularly uninterested in details. Instead he turns the Gulf War into a science fiction film, his audience forced to glide over alien terrain whilst witnessing stupid creatures setting their own planet ablaze. Misery, greed and ignorance cannot be escaped, and so the planet burns. Later Herzog documentaries adopt an even more apocalyptic tone, the director foretelling the end of our species altogether.

    7.9/10 – At its worst, "Lessons of Darkness" aestheticizes and prettifies what should scar and horrify. See "Encounters at the End of the World", "The Wild Blue Yonder" and "The White Diamond" instead. Worth one viewing.
  • avatar

    Gavigamand

    Some eastern sea that lay heavily in the dawn, attended in its farthest far horizon by titanic walls of smoke and crowned by spires of fire and hot gouts of burning oil arching in the air. This deceptive sea reflecting the sky above made of crude oil. Werner Herzog mounts his camera on a helicopter and takes us through the desolate landscape of Kuwait's oil fields yet there's no politics involved, no topical Gulf War content. These oil fires the result of the scorched earth policy of Iraqi military forces retreating from Kuwait in 1991 after conquering the country but being driven out by Coalition military forces. In a truly apocalyptic manner, Herzog simply invites us to "come and see" the works of man. Reciting short passages from the book of the Apocalypse as sweeping aerial shot after sweeping aerial shot expose a land ravaged by war, the earth tarred far as the eye can see, a vast steppe of black tending to the rim of the world, the skies charred by enormous fires and billows of smoke. This is really a documentary on the apocalypse, on some end to the world, the Gulf War a paradigm of all wars to end it with. A truly awe-inspiring spectacle of destruction and abandonment that mirrors man's insubstantiality when measured up against nature in his own power to destroy it. Not a documentary in the traditional sense but mostly a plot less 60 minute expedition in the deep recesses of a wartorn desert that lets the grandeur of its visuals see it through with Kubrickian aplomb. In the end the workers reignite some of the oil wells they previously extinguished. Herzog muses in his voice-over: "Now they are content. Now they have something to extinguish again".
  • avatar

    Arakus

    Herzog is such a darling bringing all his weirdness and filmmaking skills into a special little masterpiece like this one. Small details like a little flame in the middle of gigantic cloud of black smoke or making a bulldozer beautiful is captured and it is wonderful.
  • avatar

    Levion

    This ranks as one of the few documentaries, along with Littlest Soldier, where his politics and German Guilt are most direct. Usually he limits himself to studies of character, individuals. This one is about the character of modern warfare and brings up memories of The Doors' When the Music's Over, and reference to Apocalypse Now. Herzog flies in a helicopter, through oil fires, playing Wagner, and reading from the Apocalypse. This is a filmaker's documentary of life imitating art imitating life. Even if you don't think real images of scenes usually reserved for horror movies are moving, the photography of the colors of the sun through the smoke and fire is stunning. And those who think it's politics are one sided should note the equally graphic details of the results of both sides' work. For those that don't remember, there was a little action in the Persian Gulf in 1991.
  • avatar

    RED

    It is trite to say something is merely 'an experience', but that's all that one can truly say of Lessons Of Darkness. In a sense it is the sequel to Herzog's earlier mood film, Fata Morgana, from 1971, and even appears on the same DVD package with that film. Is Lessons Of Darkness profound? No. But that presumes it has an intellectual content. It has very little. Poetry abounds, especially the unconscious sort, and in Herzog's voiceovers, quoting from the Book of Revelations. Is it an anti-war film? Not really. It has been called such by many critics, but they tend to miss a lot. Reductionists often cannot see that a real artist, especially a great one like Herzog, always has more going on up his sleeve than the predictable rabbit or ace in the hole, even if we are not exactly sure what that squirming mass is. Lessons Of Darkness is a primal, emotional film that abstracts ideas of war beyond the conventional good and bad axis, to become something utterly unto its own set of natural laws (both war and the film), and as such makes most criticism of it superfluous, even silly. But, that does not mean it does not have layers to it, nor that it is not art, nor great art. It is. Taste it.
  • avatar

    Gio

    Werner Herzog documents the Kuwaiti oil fires during the Gulf War. That is the simple explanation not given during the film or the movie's narration, and does not inform the composition of the work. Rather, here is an apocalyptic tale of a city divided, destroyed, and replaced by raging infernos, man-made volcanoes, plains turned to deserts and forests subsumed by lakes of oil. The movie itself is very elemental and often contrasts opposing forces, water and fire, oil and sky. Herzog adds classical music for poetic effect, and shows characters, all of whom have lost their voices.

    The first half is Apocalypse realized, complete with Biblical notation and everything. The landscape is destroyed, long helicopter shots show nothing but wasteland. The second half is more curious, and ultimately more disturbing. For the majority of the second half you watch as people put out the fires, dig through the oil, and rebuild, reintroducing technology and solidity and community to the landscape. Then, less you read a hopeful message into this feature, those same workers reignite the fire. No real motivation is explained or described, except that the workers themselves subsist off of continuing the destruction.

    Herzog has always shown a propensity to bringing the camera to the edges of survival and human condition, and even the technical aspects of bringing a film camera so close to raging infernos and spraying oil wells has to be taken into account. He is fearless for his craft, his equipment, and his life, and it is because he imbues all of his cinema completely with his soul.

    --PolarisDiB
  • avatar

    Just_paw

    Werner Herzog narrates sparingly from an alien's perspective, but for the most part lets the images do the talking themselves. And yes, there are some pretty powerful images contained within this 50 minute documentary.

    This is a pretty typical Herzog documentary, which if you aren't familiar with him, that means it's a pretty slow paced film. But the images are so great, if you let yourself get caught up in them, I don't see the slow pacing to be a problem. Herzog always says he's looking for "ecstatic truth" in his films. I think he achieved that with this one.
  • avatar

    Weiehan

    Gorgeous and moving. Nominated for a 1992 Academy Award for Best Documentary, this film stands back and lets the subject tell the story. There is little dialog, little is added to the footage from the director - the images and sparse interviews themselves are dramatic enough, and then some. The viewer is left to his or her own thoughts on the subject of world-scale war and its aftermath, inspiring a very personal and often spiritual experience. What Herzog did add frames the subject with appropriate intensity and awe, without becoming grandiose.

    I did not find the film to be especially "arty" or inaccessible, though an impatient frame of mind (not to mention a dependence on heavy-handed narrative) has lead to frustration and misunderstanding for some viewers.

    If you are interested in this subject matter, I would recommend "Fires of Kuwait", an IMAX film available on video (for sale). More astonishing footage, and the fascinating story of the firefighting teams that extinguished all 607 of the oil wells ignited by the retreating Iraqi troops.
  • avatar

    Mikarr

    For me this is the best documentary I have ever seen. The images are amazing. And as always Werner tells an fabulous story. I can't stop to watch it. Music gives the film something magical even the "brutal" images. This is for sure my favorite film of Werner Herzog. It takes one the breathe away.
  • avatar

    Mariwyn

    "Lessons of Darkness" is a spectacle of fire and flames, a look at the evil of mankind through the eyes of an extraterrestrial. It is a haunting, original experience, directed by one of the greatest of all filmmakers, the brilliant Werner Herzog.

    The film is often compared to Herzog's 1971 "documentary" "Fata Morgana" (which I think is one of the most wonderful and strange films ever made), due to its similar setting and style. However, "Lessons of Darkness" has none of the humor of "Fata Morgana", and, instead, it contains plenty of sheer horror. Throughout, the film displays images of war that are simultaneously breathtaking and horrifying. Herzog's narration adds to the film's non-human feeling. In the film, Herzog's narrator is a godlike figure, looking down at the horrific and disturbing nature of Earth and its people.

    This film manages to be more of an "experience" than a conventional "documentary". It's one of Herzog's most experimental works, as well as one of his finest and scariest.
  • avatar

    Zulurr

    Well, if like me, you'd find a McDonald's commercial narrated by Werner Herzog somewhat fascinating, then you might as well see this.

    I should have a long time ago, the film is nearly 25 years old...

    To me it is almost like a found footage film, with the narration on top taking some otherwordly images and pushing them a bit further out of the grasp of the gravity of our mundane existence. I expect for some moments in your past you've felt like "A Man Who Fell to Earth" before or at least been a "Brother From Another Planet" I feel like Herzog turns that trick here on his viewers.

    Even looking at daily life with an overdose of introspection, some of what we see every day can become strange and alien. Moreso for the rare view of what happened in Kuwait after more of mankind's failures aka war.

    So the story and titled chapters not quite fitting with the images, but offering something quasi-plausible allowed at least my mind to wander into these semi sci-fi scenes. But it is a trap....as amidst the make-believe movie we do then meet some undeniably real people, still reeling from the war.

    We may want to dismiss this all as foreign and as remote as a Star Wars saga, but we hear from two women, the latter one with her mute child. That encounter, where Herzog no longer spins a tale but lets the woman tell her story is striking. Her tragedy dismisses the cinematic fantasy and burns as hot as any of the lit oil gushers.

    It's a small but simple contrast but it sure worked for me. It helped make sure I appreciated the craft of the film, but did not merely "enjoy" the veneer of the film, its searing images and soaring soundtrack.

    25 years later, I wonder about that young boy; how and who he is now. I also wonder to a lesser degree about those shots of some workers re-igniting the oil wells after working so hard to put them out, that was such a symbolic shot, if not lesson, in the darkness. Apologies to future children of flame wars...
  • avatar

    Burilar

    "Lektionen in Finsternis" or "Lessons of Darkness" is a 54-minute live action documentary from 1992. The writer and director is Werner Herzog and we also get to hear his great voice on several occasions narrating stories about the contents of this film, especially early on in here. The topic here are the burning Kuwaitian oil fields in the Middle East. I personally must say that it is a subject I knew about, but never had much interest in. Herzog changed this, but only slightly. It was interesting to watch this documentary, but it is still nothing that I would do research on myself. There is another documentary from the same year on this subject which is narrated by Rip Torn, considerably short and also not as known as Herzog's work. And yet that other one managed to score an Oscar nomination. I also agree with these who say Herzog's work is better. Maybe the reason is that Herzog did not really try to elaborate on the political facts and context, but just shows us a depiction of video recordings that describe the state of Kuwait, its people and the brave men trying to extinguish the fires. I remember especially one scene from the very end when people set an oil fountain on fire and Herzog asks if it is not possible anymore to live without the burning oil for these people. This scene could have come off as fairly pretentious when other filmmakers had made it similarly, but Herzog somehow gets away with it and it is even one of the best moments of this fairly short full feature documentary. I recommend the watch here and this film keeps up my opinion that Herzog can always be relied on. i also felt sometimes that this reminded me occasionally of Herzog's "Fata Morgana", only that it has more political context and more oil and fire and less Leonard Cohen and Lotte Eisner, even if I still like "Fata Morgana" more. The tone and atmosphere felt fairly similar. Go see both of these. You will hopefully not regret it.
  • avatar

    Kesalard

    "Lessons of Darkness" is a visual meditation on the nature of destruction. It is a short 55 minutes in length and has little talking, but it is exactly as long as it needs to be. It shows natural destruction and human suffering and looks to explore why they exist. Much of the greatness of the film is not just the philosophical points it raises through its imagery, but its dark and gloomy atmosphere, that makes it feel like you're staring into the abyss of Hell.

    The film shows a city ruined by its inhabitants, and uses these visuals and few words to express thoughts about nature's relation to destruction. The film suggests that destruction is inherent to nature and humanity, as people feel the need to hurt other humans, while nature exists in a constart state of potential destruction, as evidenced by the opening shot which shows a man encountering an alien on another planet, and the first thing he sees is fire roaring behind him. Because of this, everything around us can be completely changed as we know it at a moments notice. Destruction lives in us as it does in nature, constantly lurking beneath the surface, disguising itself as life like the oil lakes disguise themselves as water. We attempt to suppress this destruction but when we can't, we just use what we have at our disposal for our own personal benefit. However, when we do successfully suppress the destruction, we realize we lose purpose without it, showing why destruction is a part of nature. Without a fire to extinguish, what's the point?
  • avatar

    Dandr

    Werner Hertzog's Lessons of Darkness is not your usual documentary. There's little narration, only two brief interviews, and no Nova style recreations. It's among the least informative docs I've seen, but it's not trying to educate. It exists merely as a visual record of the destruction wrought on Kuwait by Saddam's armies, and a reminder of the evils of which man is capable. On that level, it succeeds. The footage speaks for itself; you don't need anyone to tell you that you're looking at hell on earth.

    Plus, Lessons of Darkness isn't a strait documentary in the purest sense. It's also intended as a silent parable of an apocalypse brought on by man's madness. When we see only endless desolation, fires and seas of oil stretching beyond the horizon, it's not hard to imagine that the entire world has been consumed. Some have considered this film to be anti-war. I suppose it is to a degree, although not overtly so. It doesn't deliver political commentary, or preach about the need for peace at any price but it does offer a stark reminder of the price of human conflict.

    And what a price there was. Cities looted, people raped and murdered, burning wells and lakes of oil as far as the eye can see. Looking at the destruction, I'm overcome with the pointlessness of it all. I can understand why the Iraqi troops stole everything up to the marble on the buildings, but what does it gain them to light up every well, bomb every storage tank, and douse a national park with millions of gallons of crude? What bitterness and depravity drives men to set a country ablaze?

    Even worse is what they did to the people. A mother tells how soldiers broke into her house at night, trampled her son almost to death, and shot her husband, enjoying themselves the whole time. There was no reason for this; it wasn't even done as part of a reprisal. How sick must a man be to derive pleasure from hurting an innocent child? Standing as a counterpoint to outright psychopathy of the invaders is the bravery and dedication of the firefighters putting out the blaze. There are no interviews with them, and no explanation of their craft, but simply seeing them drive a bulldozer or excavator up to mouth of hell, or physically manhandling a pipe junction onto a geyser of oil tells you that they must be incredibly courageous and a bit nuts. I personally cannot imagine what it must be like to work in such overpowering heat, clothes reeking of oil, with the knowledge that a single spark could blow you into kingdom come.

    The movie's overall effect is sobering and haunting, with eeriness added by the sound track. I'm not sure why Hertzog chose most of the classical pieces he did. Some are dirge-like and sad, but most seem more fitting for footage of the moon, or a volcano. The odd pairing of music and visuals did not detract from my enjoyment of the film, but others might be somewhat weirded out. I am also at a loss to explain the scene in which workers cast flaming rags into jets of oil, reigniting them. The director, in keeping with his vision of apocalypse, suggests that the men a seized with insanity, and have become so used to the fires that they cannot live in a world without them. This is of course not the case, but for the life of me I cannot fathom what end it served.

    All in all, this is not the film to see if want to learn more about the Gulf War and the rebuilding effort. However, if you are seeking a quiet reflection on the evil and madness that men are capable of, and a vision of what hell must surely resemble, this will do.
  • avatar

    Gagas

    Werner Herzogs "Lessons of Darkness" is a documentary film that contains little in the way of narrative or context. The narration provided by Herzog himself is sparse and removed. In the poetic and haunting introduction he sets the film up as a vision of an apocalyptic future. The oil drenched sands of Kuwait and the rarely seen images of industrial petroleum harvesting immediately disorient the viewer and place them in a frightening and alien environment.

    The sands are alight following the brief yet devastating conflict between Iraq and Kuwait but Herzog is not trying to give a history lecture or a political speech, his aims are largely artistic. What you will take from this film is a very personal experience, Herzog has enough respect for his audience to not let the film get bogged down by his own prejudices and beliefs. The film elicits all sorts of questions about the environmental impact of oil, the horrors of war and geopolitics without ever once slapping the audience in the face with some neatly packaged "message" that we should take away from it.

    The soundtrack is comprised of classical compositions like Wagner. The use of overhead pan shots and stop motion will elicit flashbacks for people who have seen Koyaanisqatsi, this isn't a bad thing but deserves mentioning.

    Herzog doesn't let the film get away from him. At under an hour in length there is no bloated runtime here to test your patience, just a series of thought provoking visuals and a haunting score. Highly recommended.
  • avatar

    Uyehuguita

    Werner Herzog does not make documentaries. He manipulates the truth in order create an artistic truth that channels reality in the way he feels it should be seen. The approach he takes with Lessons Of Darkness is a similar style to the quite brilliant Fata Morgana and the hypnotic, yet slight meandering, The Wild Blue Yonder. He does a similar thing yet not quite to the same style in the brilliant Grizzly Man and the solid Little Dieter Learns To Fly. He has been often criticised for this, yet I feel it is what makes him one of the greatest and most interesting film-makers in history, and one of the best documentary film-makers of recent times.

    His focus in Lessons Of Darkness is the desolate and ruined landscape of post-Gulf War Kuwait. His camera sweeps along the country with an fascination and curiosity from the viewpoint of a complete outsider. Herzog has stated that he regularly shoots his documentaries as if he were a visiting alien on his first day on Earth. The film is separated by thirteen different chapters, focusing their attention on burned-out military vehicles, weapons of torture, and most beautifully, the burning oil fields of Kuwait and the men given the task of putting out these massive fireballs.

    About two-thirds of the film are dedicated to the oil fields, and they are a wonder to behold. Herzog's camera and almost philosophical narration given with that strange German accent portray it as almost a biblical disaster. The whole sky is literally scarred with black smoke, and the flames burn brightly for miles on end. As usual, Herzog becomes fascinated with the workers who are putting the flames out, always being transfixed by people put through extreme experiences. He shows them as they re-ignite the fires when they were just a jet of oil spurting into the air, and wonders if they have becomes engulfed by madness and a need to stay out of the darkness.

    No-one makes documentaries quite as hypnotic and enticing as Herzog, and this is no exception. While not reaching the brilliance of Fata Morgana, Grizzly Man or Encounters At The End Of The World, the film is still a fascinating portrait of a slightly neglected topic. He stays out of political viewpoints and only includes a couple of interviews, instead remaining as a mere observer. A fine example of why Herzog is one of the most prolific and original directors in cinema history, and possibly my all-time favourite director.

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