Werner Herzog Richard Combs - Essay

Richard Combs

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Where [Herzog's] later films have located the history of man in a terrain and on a time scale all their own (the terminal ward of Even Dwarfs Started Small, the desert myths of Fata Morgana), Lebenszeichen … extracts a similar meditation from a specific historical situation and a not unfamiliar plot format. Wounded in Crete during the Second World War, good soldier Stroszek is removed from the fighting and left to heal in the sultry, dulling climate of a non-combat zone. In the 'time out of war' situation, his physical wound becomes an opening on the frightening illogic of his situation, the absurdity of not just the war but of all the artefacts of human existence which stand petrified around him. Herzog gives peculiar weight to the initial 'accident' of the wounding of Stroszek: "It occurred during a lull in the fighting, in a village held by the Germans", the narrator comments, and a long, swooping camera track through deserted, sun-baked streets makes an abrupt turn and comes upon two uniformed bodies, flicking away instantly to stare idly down another empty street, before returning briefly to the evidence of this glancing intrusion of death. Having been brought so close, and so inappropriately, to extinction, Stroszek's convalescence is clouded by a growing, oppressive sense that existence itself may be no more than an absurd accident; the signs of life are drenched with associations—all the family possessions which Stroszek finds...

(The entire section is 488 words.)