The American Dream in Three Historical Films

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In a small, flat world, society exists only within itself. The people preoccupied in their own universe simply cannot fathom a world outside their own. Some historians cite the first gleam of a true "American Dream" didn't surface until the first colonization. However, in three historical films, recreations of very early distinctions in the very first American dreams are exposed for their accuracies and their faults. The spirits that voyaged onward, heading for a land of riches and freedom, had many characteristics in common. Still, inconsistencies existed in their tactics and their motivation, which led to some failed attempts and a few successful investments. It was these adventurers who brought on motivation and hope for the future of the beginning of these United States.

The first film in this series is Aguirre, the Wrath of God, directed by Werner Herzog of Germany. In this psychologically demanding account, Herzog explores the life and destiny of Lope De Aguirre who famously navigated the South American landscape through the Amazon River en route to one destination; El Dorado, the golden city.

The film's opening shots culminate in a magnificent sight: the view slowly zooms towards an Andes mountain face with an endless string of soldiers and slaves descending the impermeable terrain. They suspend their women above them in ornate thrones. They carry heavy cannons, supplies, and are hindered by steel armor that inhibits comfortable movement. As David Cook aptly states in his "History of Narrative Film," it is the very image of futility. It is implicit that the primary appliance of filmmaking is fabrication. Realities are fashioned to tell fiction. Reality is essentially a foreign quality of film. Even Titanic — the most expensive film ever made — relies upon special effects instead of the arguably more affordable action of sinking a ship.

Aguirre is a stark contrast to this traditional filmmaking tactic. The film is less about a treacherous journey than it is one, as the cast and crew repeat the fictionalized trek, lending the film a resolute truth. Gonzalo Pizarro leads this army, whose incongruity of transport exploits their vulnerability. He is driven, pompous, and partially ignorant — traits mirrored in Herzog for leading his crew into identical endurances. His resulting work is one of rare audacity. Pizarro's intentions are benevolent although inspired by the conformist tactics of imperialism.

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