(Originally written November 30, 2008)
Perhaps Werner Herzog went too far with this film.
Heart of Glass centers on a village where the local glassworks foreman died without revealing the secret of Ruby Glass, leading the villagers to the supposed fortune teller in the mountains for guidance. This movie, however, is better known for its gimmick rather than its story—all of the actors performed under hypnosis.
Director Herzog is infamous for his quirks and games, and although the hypnosis certainly creates the intended eerie atmosphere, it is often distracting. The vacant, soulless performances work to push away audiences rather than draw them in.
The mystic in the mountains, named Hias, has visions throughout the film foreshadowing the demise of the village and also the rest of mankind. His visions are relayed to the audience through mesmerizing image, and they make for some of the most engaging moments of the film. However, while many of Herzog’s other films also engage in this dialogue about the self-destructive nature of humanity, this film has less of a sense of urgency. The collective madness of the characters who strive for the answer to the mystery of this Ruby Glass is to be feared, but nothing in this film makes as strong a plea for humanity to reassess itself as the images of fire, smoke and ash in Herzog’s Lessons of Darkness.
To be perfectly honest, all of this could just be excuses for the fact that I thought this movie was excruciatingly slow and difficult to sit through. In the audio commentary of the DVD of the film, Herzog said American audiences did not respond particularly favorably to this film, pointing to our commercial culture and need for stories to be told in 15 seconds or less. Although this tends to be true, I don’t think this is the reason why audiences did not react overwhelmingly positive. Most of Herzog’s films have some other quality that draws us into his world, whether that is the surprising warmth of The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser or the anarchic humor or Even Dwarfs Started Small. Heart of Glass did not do enough to draw me into demented vision of Werner Herzog.
This film was certainly not a waste of time. It was a bold experiment with occasional moments of genius, confronting audiences about the violent nature of the subconscious and human nature, but I can’t deny that I was relieved when the film was over.