Dieter Dengler got out of Laos in 1966, but what happened in the months before he escaped from the hell of being a prisoner of the Vietnam war still haunts the mind of this physically fit and healthy middle-aged man.
Herzog takes Dengler not only back to Laos, but also to Germany, where he was born and where little Dieter learned that he needed to fly. From the windows of his house in Wildberg he saw the airplanes attacking and dropping bombs during World War II and he knew from that very moment what he wanted to do in life. In postwar Germany he learned to build church clocks and was educated as a blacksmith, but his only wish was to cross the Atlantic to become a pilot. At eighteen he left for Bremerhaven, got extremely seasick on the boat to the USA, and after spending a couple of years as a recruit in the army peeling potatoes, learned to fly. And then he was off to Vietnam. His dream was fulfilled: he was a pilot.
In detail Dieter Dengler tells the story of how he was shot down and captured, tortured and brought to a prison camp. He is standing where it all happened, his story re-enacted with Laotians playing the soldiers of that time. In his luxurious house on a mountain near San Francisco, he is unable to shake the demons that have occupied his soul. It helps to be back where he was 30 years ago. Dengler escaped from the prison camp with a friend who later hadó his head chopped off, leaving Dieter alone in the jungle, “dreaming of oceans and foreign shores.” A wild bear creeps around him, seemingó to be his only friend – or maybe the embodiment of death, waiting for the right moment to eat him. Dengler was finally rescued by a helicopter. The man who spotted him on the ground signalling S.O.S. also appears in the film, and the two meet again.
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