As a big fan of tenor Enrico Caruso, an incurable idealist, and also a passionate practitioner, Fitzcarraldo also had all the qualities that made him a creative performance artist. He was so persuasive and convincible that the guard would give him and Molly free entrance to the concert, and after acting like a groupie at Caruso’s concert, he told of his lofty ideals, or his wishful thinking, that he would build an opera house in the tropical rainforest and Caruso would come for its premiere. It was a shame that he was not persuasive enough to make those astute and sober local businessmen to support his project. He had neither oil shares nor real estates to support his “great ideal” with the money needed, and it seemed mundane to him to talk about money. He was just an ice maker with a big dream.
I don’t think he was out of his mind or insane. He was just obsessed with his desire. He was devoted like any other man of success. He was more bold to tell a dream others consider not worth it or infeasible, but what was wrong being aggressive and insist on once dream?
There are several interesting details in this movie:
1. Opera is a magical panacea. Fitzcarraldo used opera as a tool for propaganda for money to the rich, a form of diplomacy to the Indians, and a cover-up of his failure. The opera on the Amazon river was splendid, but the live concert in the end seemed mundane and downcasted to me.
2. “The pigs just love me.” Said Fitzcarraldo. It seemed to me he was trying to build an opera house not just for his boosted ego, but for the poor and stupid, yet kind and pure, who are worthy of the most beautiful thing in the world—an opera. I would not say that Fiztcarraldo is classist. He was more like a in-between who struggled to bridge the gap between different classes. “They believe that money can buy every thing,” said Fitzcarraldo with disgust, but still he asked for help, or more specifically, asked money from those astute businessmen who despised him. That is who he was, an ice-maker with little money and infinite obsession to build an opera house for the poor in the rainforest.
3. Fiztcarraldo dressed in white throughout the movie. It symbolically indicated that he was pure like a child, with no worries, no distracting thoughts, no conspiracies, and no fear in pursuing his dream. It was only at the end of the movie, when Caruso was singing on his tilted boat, that Fitzcarraldo was dressed in a black suit with the “best cigar”, a chair, and an experienced look. I don’t think he made it to his dream, and I consider the opera on his boat a compromise, a cover-up, and a failure. I consider him a quitter after all. I have no clue if that was what Herzog was trying to tell.
4. “The Indians were waiting for a white God in a divine vessel.” They mistook Fitzcarraldo to God? The God who can make people young for ever and prevent them from death? Is that why they sold their labor for nothing (I don’t believe that they did everything for a piece of ice)? Then why did they came back after Fitzcarraldo brought two deaths to their lives? A white obsessed male who was despised by normal people was considered God of the Indians, what did that tell you? Will craziness make people divine, or minorities were just inferior? It was also curious to me that before Fitzcarraldo’s crew quitted, they made several fuzzes, and were quieted for nothing but Fitzcarraldo’s appearance, even when he dismissed four people, including the only two females on the boat. They left not because the resented Fitzcarraldo, but because they were cowards who did not have strong will power to conquer the blurring future.
5. “Molly, you can’t come. The girls can’t live without you,” said Fitzcarraldo. After his lover supported him both spiritually and economically, he rejected her accompany to his final journey to the rainforest with a sweet kiss. He was too lucky to find the most ideal woman of the time: a beauty both inside and outside, rich and generous, an incurable optimistic mind who believes in love, and an outlier–a prostitute–just like Fitzcarraldo himself. She gave, she waited, and she cheered for his semi-success instead of his semi-failure. Herzog was perhaps depicting his ideal lady. He was grateful for what women gave, but was burdened by the historical context to acknowledge that woman can be just as aggressive in pursuing their dreams as men. Or his idea that the only thing women care about were their men. Sexism? More than a little bit. But it is more than acceptable given this context with a focus on one person’s obsession.
I would say it is unfortunate that the movie was based on a real story, because it supported the Utopian illusion of lots of obsessed minds. It is also spectacular that how human beings can achieve impossible as if it is our destine.
The Chinese movie name of Fitzcarraldo means voyage on the land, which is definitely an insane behavior. I’m afraid there are very few directors can shoot a movie like Herzog. It’s not only the movie, but also the filming process that has been a heated topic of madness. Fitzcarraldo is a movie shot by a maniac, and casted by another.