Wheel of Time (Herzog, 2003)

It’s been a pleasure discovering Herzog’s multifaceted and sometimes very frustrating work. Most of his films are epic in scope and diverse in subject matter. Wheel of Time, a documentary on the comings and goings of the world’s largest Buddhist ceremony held in a small village in India (the name escapes me, it is 130am) where Buddha himself found enlightenment, is no different.

Structurally, Wheel of Time comes off somewhat less complex as many of the Herzog docs I’ve seen. But this simplicity in structure fits nicely with the calmness, meditation, and devotion of the hudreds of thousands of Buddhist disciples he films. The film glides along, as if Herzog himself got lost in the shuffle, amazed at the beautiful sand scultpure monks spending weeks and weeks preparing and the monumental committment to faith each shares.

For me though, Wheel of Time can be defined by this extremely loose, hypnotic glide only to a point, because it lacks a filmmaking focus he shown in other docs, one example being his ultimate masterwork Lessons of Darkness, which he somehow created a mix of surrealism and immediate political commentary into a fascinating, mind-bending work about the aftermath of the first Gulf War.

Wheel of Time works as a free-spirited trek into a religion/terrain one might never have fiully realized before, but the repetitive images seem to be far more evoccative to Herzog himself than they did to me. Ultimately the images of “the faithfull” don’t have the lasting effect the inner sanctity Herzog is portraying deserves.


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