Robert Hatch

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 470

Illustration of PDF document

Download Werner Herzog Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Werner Herzog is belligerently romantic in an age subservient to plausibility. Whereas other directors build their fictions, however extreme or grotesque, with the mortar of cause and effect, he invokes his tales with a magic wand. I think, though, that he does so because he is not only romantic but impatient. He sees a truth, is eager to share it and cannot pause to touch each base along the way. Thus in Stroszek … he needs to get his quite moneyless people from Germany to America. So he sends Eva, a street whore, down to the warehouse district of Berlin where, in five quick tricks, she gets the plane fares from some Turkish "guest workers," as the Germans call them. Never mind that Turks on temporary visas cannot pay that kind of money for their pleasure—Herzog is moving as briskly as possible in the direction he wants to go. And it should be noted that his magic wand is tipped with acid, not a star.

He calls [this] picture a ballad; it could as well be termed a pilgrimage…. Just who Stroszek is may be the subject of the film, and it may be that we never quite know. Clearly, he is a "natural," but not in the sense that he is touched in the head (though he may also be that); rather that he moves in ways of his own devising, unmoved by outward circumstance. Live and let live is Bruno's far from original philosophy, but he pursues it with a doggedness that is at least unusual, given that he is entirely incapable of enforcing his golden rule….

In its final reels, Stroszek begins to jump its sprockets, its peculiar romanticism spinning into phantasmagoria, as Bruno robs a barber shop (a very quick, very funny Western holdup), buys a frozen turkey, "borrows" the garage tow truck and sets off for the hills….

Moral? None at all, I would say; the film is intended to open your eyes, and you are expected to draw the conclusions. However, of observation there is plenty. Herzog has filmed an America that many Americans have never seen, but that all of them should recognize. It is the land where everyone is equal and the devil take the hindmost. Where your credit is as good as your signature, and the auctioneer will sell you up the day your payments stop. It is a place where friendliness is next to godliness and bad luck is deemed the best of jokes. If you believe in magic, America is the place for you, but you are a fool if you trust your fairy godmother. Thus Herzog brings manner and matter together in Stroszek, probably his best work to date. (p. 157)

Robert Hatch, "Films: 'Stroszek'," in The Nation (copyright 1977 The Nation Associates, Inc.), Vol. 225, No. 5, August 20-27, 1977, pp. 157-58.∗


Penelope Gilliatt


Stanley Kauffmann