Werner Herzog has one of the most impressive filmographies of documentary filmmaking out there, and although his work as a documentarian covers a huge spectrum of topics, the common denominator always seems to be an existential exploration of humanity and truth. Herzog’s approach rejects the notion that documentaries fall within the sphere of journalism. He does not aspire to simply report facts on an incident or a historical event; instead, Herzog aims for something much more artistic in nature. His documentaries are best described as visual poems.
In “Wings of Hope”, the subject matter tackles one of the most fascinating survival stories in recorded history, the story of Juliane Koepcke. Koepcke was the sole survivor of a Peruvian flight that was struck by lightning. After heavy turbulence, the aircraft plunged into a nose-dive freefall, and her seat was tossed out of the plane before she spiraled through the air. As if surviving a two-mile drop wasn’t enough, the then seventeen-year-old also had to survive eleven days alone in the Amazon rainforest.
Throughout the film, she retraces her steps in the forest and this footage is intercut with recreated sequences representing her nightmares. Herzog’s almost lyrical narration turns an otherwise harrowing tale into a story of hope and beauty. Early in the film, we learn that Herzog was supposed to be on the same flight as Juliane but was denied a seat at the last minute. This remarkable coincidence makes the connection between the filmmaker and his subject all the more complex, for they were not brought together through interest, but rather fate.