“Heart of Glass” by Werner Herzog (1976) – (Full film)


“Ontological rivalry” between two beer buddies.

The film depicts life in German provincial semi-town-semi-village in a slow transition from 18h to 19th century, and it is this depiction if to consider its anthropological authenticity and scrupulous attention to details. But it is, conversely, the historical scope of the film, its applicability to various epochs including our own – the beginning of 21st century, that makes it a unique achievement of cinematic art as an aesthetic and cognitive contribution to human culture and our understanding of the world and human life.

Especially important in Herzog’s analysis of the condition of human beings in relation to their ability to think about the world and themselves in it, are two topics. The first one is the difference between the mixture of everyday common(non)sense and technical (applied) thinking about the problems (which Herzog examines in relation to ordinary/regular human beings personified by the two peasants and drinking buddies – Ascherl and Wudy), and, on the other hand, the very human ability to think about life holistically, that the director studying by focusing on the “intellectuals” of the local community – the owner of the ruby glass producing factory (an aesthete and worshipper of the ruby glass) and the shepherd-seer Hias. The second topic is that of the overwhelming difficulties these two exceptional characters of the film have to face in order to enrich their own and the local people’s lives with spiritual meaning in order to try to overcome the blind despotic impulses of rivaling and dominating behavior. Herzog describes our “intellectuals’” sometimes ambiguous or even crudely fallacious attempts to distract human souls from fear-and-hate as admirable and tragic human efforts to overcome the limitations of our human nature. The director gives us chance to witness how fight with archaic prejudices and superstitions creates new, sometimes not less prejudicial and superstitious attempts to comprehend human life (when tiny pieces of genuine knowledge are born together with new illusions).

Humans have the ability to define the “essence” (or the “heart”) of different things, which is a masked imitation of human heart, based on our introjection/identification with this essence by the fragment of our psyche, which created/invented it in the first place through unconscious projection on the wings of imagination. The heart of the ruby glass (of this magnificent, beautiful artifact) is the creation of a creative human heart which with god-like generosity likes to baptize various things with human essence, following the glorious sin of anthropomorphism. The problem here is that the heart of glass is glassy, and it means that the human heart defining the essence of the ruby glass’ heart is also becoming, as if, made of glass (through projection and then introjection and identification with it). It becomes de-existentialized/dehumanized. Heart of the ruby glass could be alright as a mechanical sublime object, but the human heart symbiotically tied to it psychologically, is a victim of the ruby glass’ beauty – it becomes glassy, it is losing its existential sensitivity. It is the price of having a deal with things, working with them and especially inventing them. Human psyche is intimately connected with the human environment. We cannot avoid partial identification with the world we interact with, and especially with our own artifacts we use. The danger of robotization of the human soul has become, for example, very actual today as a result of internalization/identification with computer systems and smart gadgets.

But it doesn’t matter how unbearable – aggressive, stupid, smart in a stupid way and fanatical the personages of the “Heart of Glass” are – Herzog’s art transforms the impossible people into those whom we perceive through the magic glasses of sublimated vision. With Herzog’s help we still understand these people’s humongous shortcomings (similar to that many of us today carry inside), but we are not irritated with them, and our scapegoating reflex kept locked. Herzog‘s aesthetic analysis of human beings not only helps our minds to get rid of our blissful blindness toward our own history and our own present life, but also “cleans” us, while we’re experiencing the film, from indignation and disgust, righteous hate and contempt – it transforms our negative emotions into intellectual sensitivity. Herzog’s art in “Heart of Glass” is democratic – it creates in us a democratic instead of hateful reaction on other people. While commercial (entertaining) and ideologically propagandist movies through polarization of positive and negative characters stimulate human antagonistic feelings and closing the possibility for change, directors like Werner Herzog open the perspective for understanding as such and, therefore, gives us the chance for participating in the change through opening the gates, which hate always closes.

Posted on Sep, 18 2016 –   Werner Herzog’s “Heart of Glass” (1976) – Apocalypse In Fragments of Life That Is, As If, Hypnotized By the Historical Process – Anthropological Etude On Human Superstitions And Prejudices by Acting-Out Politics