Stunning from start to finish, Werner Herzog’s The White Diamond charts engineer Graham Dorrington’s quest to create a balloon airship able to hover above rainforest canopy is a must see. Dorrington, a man suffering from his own past failures, including the tragic death of one of his cameramen in a flight ten years ago, has the same mixture of mania and passion that makes Herzog the director so fascinating.
The two make quite a pair, Werner and his crew ascending into the South American rainforest to document Dorrington’s test flights, setbacks, and ultimate triumph. The photography of Dorrington’s airship hovering over the epic rainforest canopy calls to mind earlier Herzog, Aguirre, the Wrath of God, and Fitzcarraldo, but this time we know it’s not fiction.
Where those films showed madness at it’s most selfish and tragic level, The White Diamond dares to reveal Dorrington as a man insanely driven to redeem, both in the eyes of his living colleges and the ghost of his friend whose death still haunts his dreams. With The White Diamond, Herzog excels on all levels – a dynamite locale, a conflicted subject, and most importantly, a story worth telling filled with tension and enlightenment. The final shot, millions of Swift birds flying to their hidden nests underneath the never photographed underbelly of the waterfall in which Dorrington and Herzog’s crew have camped above, feels mysterious, unsolvable, and sublimely beautiful, everything one can ask for in a Herzog production.