LESSONS IN DARKNESS
(directed by Werner Herzog, 1995)
***+ (out of 5)
> Another enigmatic documentary from the brilliant cinema visionary Werner Herzog, LESSONS IN DARKNESS examines the horrific aftermath of the Gulf War when retreating Iraqi forces torched Kuwait’s oil fields rather than let them fall intact to the enemy: us.
. This interesting film contains the usual droll and occasionally inscrutable narration- delivered in Herzog’s flat, almost monotone German-accented English. As usual, it’s half insight and half hooey. At one point he gives us “information” that I just don’t buy for a second. The term for this kind of faux-information is “lies” or “fantasy” at best. We watch as a crew of filthy, sweating, exhausted workers re-light a well fire they had already worked hard to extinguish. I have no doubt there was a good technical reason for this, but Warner irresponsibly speculates that the workers were just so bored, they do this strictly for kicks while the camera is watching. Yeah, right. They incur potentially tens of thousands of dollars worth of harm… for kicks. I’m not buying it Werner, and I wish you’d be a little more responsible in your “reporting”!)
. This film doesn’t explore the subject so much as just train the camera on the debacle and let ‘er rip. The outcome is pure visual mayhem. Herzog finds a terrible beauty to these caustic images of environmental cataclysm. Raging fire! Sweltering heat! Bubbling crude oil! Roiling black clouds billowing toxins! The carnage of war. We watch, a bit detached, as the contractors hired to clean up Saddam Hussein’s mess brave the raging infernos to stop the unfolding disaster from getting any worse.
. It’s nothing short of amazing what these leatherneck workmen do. One hopes they were very well paid!
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