In our book Spiritual Literacy, Rabbi Lawrence Kushner is quoted: “The world is drenched in mystery and no matter what we do, we can never cut through it all and grab hold of the answer, the one explanation.” Fortunately for us, there are modern-day mystics who challenge us to see the world, ourselves, and others with fresh eyes. The German filmmaker Werner Herzog is one of them.

Herzog has been called a visionary, a dreamer, and a cinematic explorer. He has produced, written, and directed more than 60 films, both narrative features and documentaries. In the films S&P has covered, he has traveled the world from Antartica and Australia to India, France, and Alaska. He has demonstrated an interest in strange places, secret knowledge, profound beauty, and facts that can be reframed by his imagination. He is admired by his peers for having created an audience for what became known as the “New German Cinema.”

Werner Herzog

In this documentary, the camera is pointed at Herzog himself. He talks about his youth and his first attempts to make films. Visiting a former home, he leads us to a waterfall, declaring that “It’s my place, where I belong.” In another scene at a ski jump, he admits that he always wanted to fly and considers it an injustice that humans do not have wings.

A tour through some of his well-known films includes comments by director Chloe Zhao who admires him for traveling the world and collecting some of “the most rapturous dreams.” Actors Nicole Kiddman and Robert Pattinson talk about the experience of working with him. Other filmmakers of the “New German Cinema,” including Wim Wenders, discuss how he helped expand their audiences. In the last section of the documentary, Herzog talks about moving to Los Angeles, a place that is wildly in gestation. Now in his 80s, he admits that “Filmmaking is not good work. You have to pace yourself.”

Director Thomas von Steinaecker spends some time on the stories that have made Herzog such a popular cultural figure. The accounts of the making of Fitzcarraldo with its volatile star Klaus Kinski are the stuff of legends! But what Herzog seems to be most interested in conveying is the power of a story to get inside things, to step beyond the facts, to be the equivalent of a dream, to embrace the Mystery. This is, of course, the mystic’s journey.