Herzog's Veracity in 'Rescue Dawn'?

RECEIVED Mon., Aug. 6, 2007

Dear Editor,
    I followed the Chronicle's four-star recommendation for Werner Herzog's film Rescue Dawn [Film Listings, July 27] and saw the movie this weekend. I left the theatre in awe of the "true story" of Dieter Dengler's capture and imprisonment as a prisoner of war in Laos. His eventual escape is a jaw-dropping tale of man against nature that recalls other Herzog films.
    I was so entranced that as soon as I arrived home, I Googled "Dieter Dengler.” That's when I found RescueDawntheTruth.com. Apparently, Herzog mightily offended the real-life family of one of Dengler's fellow American POWs in the camp. His name was Eugene DeBruin and in the movie was portrayed as obstinate, cowardly, selfish, and a little out of his mind. According to interviews with Dengler and Pisidhi Indradat (another POW imprisoned with them), nothing was further from the truth. Their accounts portray DeBruin as a selfless, intelligent peacemaker who sacrificed his decent chance at a successful escape to help a fellow prisoner who was sick with malaria as the others took off.
    Herzog had to have known of these accounts but chose to build DeBruin's character into a pathetic counterpoint to his hero's. This was needless. He already had the brutal guards and unforgiving jungle. Also, he could have fabricated a nonexistent character if that wasn't enough. Why destroy a valiant man's memory by using his name? Eugene DeBruin was tortured, held captive, and died or was murdered somewhere in Laos. Imagine his family's compounded pain upon seeing this film.
    I am a fan of Werner Herzog. I kept asking myself: "Why? Why did he write DeBruin that way?"
    I have a theory. I took a look at Herzog's main characters in Aguirre, Grizzly Man, and Rescue Dawn and saw a theme: selfishly driven, win-at-all-costs, egotistical men. Herzog may be drawn to these characters because he identifies with them. If this is so, a man like Eugene DeBruin, who gives what he has even when he has next to nothing and is not solely concerned with his own safety and future, must be mystifying to Herzog; he thinks surely he was crazy. The true counterpoint DeBruin would have provided to his hero, Dieter Dengler, may have been ultimately insulting to Herzog himself.
    I hope the moviegoing public will take the time to read the tale of the real Eugene DeBruin. I think he deserves a movie of his own.
Jennifer Willoughby McCloskey
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