Lektionen in Finsternis
Review by Leo Goldsmith
Posted on 14 December 2004
Source Anchor Bay Entertainment DVD
Features: Directors: Werner Herzog
As a revision of Herzog’s 1968 film Fata Morgana, Lessons in Darkness turns a portrait of post-Gulf War Kuwait as a documentary about an alien planet. But Lessons is a more localized, more contextualized, and still more reflexive film. And with its depictions of torture-chambers, fields of fire, and lakes of oil, it is also a more overtly political one.
Again, Herzog’s astonishing cinematography depicts this setting as a world in the midst of a beautiful and violent apocalypse, with a ballet of bombs in night-vision green and the excoriated landscape left behind. But unlike the more ambiguous tone of Fata Morgana, Herzog’s melancholy voiceover (as well as the assemblage of mournful Western classical music on the soundtrack) suggests that the film’s subject is less the exotic qualities of an alien world and more the strangeness of our own perception.
Where Fata Morgana derives its power from the hallucinatory experience of a post-colonial existence, Lessons in Darkness is (as its title suggests) instructive. We not only see the faces of the victims of invasion, we also hear their voices, and the result is a less psychedelic and more humanistic portrait than the earlier film. Rather than trading in feelings of alienation and disorientation, it prompts horror and disbelief.