FATA MORGANA, d. Werner Herzog (1971)
In 1969, Werner Herzog took a crew to the Southern Sahara, and spent several weeks driving and flying from place to place and filming everything they came across. It took him a couple of years to make sense of what he saw. Fata Morgana is a film that has no narrative, only movement, and the overwhelming conclusion to be gained from it is that, in the context of the world, human beings are a nuisance, a dangerous anomaly.
We start in the desert, tracking past miles and miles of empty sand. ‘Wilderness’ is an interesting concept: it basically means a great swathe of land that is ecologically balanced, yet inhospitable to man, as if that is the reason the Earth exists. A Mayan creation myth recounts how the Gods are permanently dissatisfied with humans, so periodically destroy them and, occasionally, we see the bones of an old building or the hulks of cars and planes which seem to verify the story.
In the second part, we begin to see people, mainly weary looking Africans living in scruffy huts and sun bleached sheds. We pass them by quickly, as if they are just another feature of the landscape, although it is notable that where the people are, there is disruption, decay, rust, holes, rubbish, and neglect. We also see our first white man - like the others we will see, he is strangely dressed and interfering with the natural order.
In the third part, we are given a number of strange vignettes (a two man band; a Swiss frogman interfering with a turtle; tourists frolicking in black sand), before ending with an aerial shot of what looks like a salt marsh, a completely natural habitat that, nevertheless, is perhaps the antithesis of what, in human terms, constitutes ‘home’. This strange, alien place is made stranger and more alien by the sun as it passes over it, turning it from black and grey to a dark gold.
What does this all mean? For me, it is that the human race are pathetic in our delusions of grandeur, in the way that we are unable to see Earth in anything other than our own terms. But we are not the world, we are in spite of it. What do we actually contribute? No matter what we do, what we build, what we destroy, we cannot get past the fact that, ultimately, our planet does not need us in any way, and would flourish in our absence. Some might find that depressing, I find it liberating: I’ve got over myself, and it feels fantastic.