Werner Herzog Narrates the Existential Journey of a Plastic Bag: Watch a Short Film by Acclaimed Filmmaker Ramin Bahrani

“It’s not what a movie is about,” Roger Ebert famous­ly wrote, “it’s how it is about it.” Sub­ject mat­ter, we might say, sep­a­rates the weak film­mak­ers from the strong: those who require a strik­ing “high con­cept” (killer doll, body switch, Snakes on a Plane) fall into the for­mer group, while those who can make a film about absolute­ly any­thing fall into the lat­ter. It’s safe to say that not every­one is moved by the scene in Amer­i­can Beau­ty where the cam­corder-tot­ing teenag­er wax­es poet­ic about his footage of a plas­tic bag in the wind. But what would sim­i­lar mate­r­i­al look like in the hands of a more assured direc­tor?

For an exam­ple, have a look at Plas­tic Bag, the eigh­teen-minute short above. Every cinephile with an inter­est in Amer­i­can film knows the name of Plas­tic Bag’s direc­tor, Ramin Bahrani. Over the past decade and a half he has emerged as the mak­er of unusu­al­ly pow­er­ful and real­is­tic glimpses of life in his home­land, focus­ing on char­ac­ters like a Pak­istani immi­grant run­ning a New York bagel cart, an orphan work­ing at a chop shop, and a Sene­galese cab dri­ver in North Car­oli­na.


In its own way, the pro­tag­o­nist and title char­ac­ter of Plas­tic Bag is also at once an out­sider to Amer­i­can life and a fig­ure insep­a­ra­ble from it — and voiced by an insid­er-out­sider of anoth­er kind, the Ger­man film­mak­er Wern­er Her­zog. (Their col­lab­o­ra­tion has con­tin­ued: you may remem­ber Her­zog’s appear­ance in a Bahrani-direct­ed episode of Mor­gan Spur­lock­’s series We the Econ­o­my about a lemon­ade stand.)

Begin­ning his jour­ney at a gro­cery-store check­out counter, he spends his first few hap­py days at the home of his pur­chas­er. But not long after this idyll of ser­vice — car­ry­ing ten­nis balls, being filled with ice to numb a sprain — comes to its inevitable end, he finds him­self deposit­ed into a land­fill. But the wind comes to his res­cue, car­ry­ing him across a series of sub­ur­ban, post-indus­tri­al, and final­ly rur­al land­scapes as he looks des­per­ate­ly for his own­er.

Ulti­mate­ly the bag makes it into places sel­dom seen by human eyes, with a com­bi­na­tion of grav­i­tas and won­der imbued by both Her­zog’s dic­tion and the music of Sig­ur Rós’ Kjar­tan Sveins­son. Watched today, Plas­tic Bag feels more ele­giac than it did when it debuted a decade ago, since which time plas­tic-bag bans have con­tin­ued to spread unabat­ed across the world. How long before not just the hero of Bahrani’s film, but all his poly­eth­yl­ene kind fade from exis­tence — for­got­ten, if not quite decom­posed?

Plas­tic Bag has been added to our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Wern­er Her­zog, Mor­gan Spur­lock & Oth­er Stars Explain Eco­nom­ic The­o­ry in 20 Short Films

Wern­er Her­zog Nar­rates Poké­mon Go: Imag­ines It as a Mur­der­ous Metaphor for the Bat­tle to Sur­vive

Wern­er Her­zog Reads From Cor­mac McCarthy’s All the Pret­ty Hors­es

Wern­er Her­zog Cre­ates Required Read­ing & Movie View­ing Lists for Enrolling in His Film School

Watch Wern­er Herzog’s Very First Film, Her­ak­les, Made When He Was Only 19-Years-Old (1962)

Start Your Day with Wern­er Her­zog Inspi­ra­tional Posters

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.