Pilgrim, Jalāl ad-Dīn’s tomb contains no body: Queen of the Desert (2015)

Akis Lalos
3 min readFeb 11, 2021


Herzog is not a young man. He’s the same age as Scorsese and note how long it’s been since Marty settled on being an illustrator, a lifetime. Herzog as recently as a few years ago was still venturing out in search.

Having said that, it’s hard to fathom this was made by the same man who gave us Stroszek and Fitzcarraldo. In those, the place was real. The protagonists were actual lost souls, not actors feigning. The journey was about actually going where we did to tug for transcendence.

He has a female lead this time, the very first time if I’m not mistaken. Like so many of his protagonists, he gives us once more someone who yearns to venture outside maps, explore hazardous edges of the world.

But he has everything else be conventional and streamlined this time. Actors stay actors whether they’re playing Turkish gendarmes or Druze rebels. Oriental music swells over sand dunes like you would expect from any other film. He filmed in Morocco sets standing in for the Middle East.

So yes, atypical for Herzog, a letdown, not one of his high marks. Others fret in comments about Herzog not getting the trivia right, right to left Arabic writing and such. What’s really the trouble for me is that it dulls the edge of dangerous discovery that set him apart. We’re in a Lawrence of Arabia timeline anyway and the film is cut from that Hollywood cloth.

The film has been so gracelessly attacked in reviews however it makes me want to take a step back. All or some of this would have been obvious to him while preparing, so the question is, what got him out of bed and across the ocean to make this?

No answer is probably going to be particularly lucid or avoid sounding like excuse. Maybe he couldn’t resist the opportunity of going on cinematic adventure, knowing he has only a few more left.

Maybe he would explain that we’re seeing through the narrator’s eyes, the world as Persian poem on evanescent love, arrested love as a deeper kind of love.

I would like to rest here with this notion. For what it’s worth: here’s a Herzog tract that swaps feverish ego in the pursuit of futile escape from the confines of the world with a heart that submits to those confines, and does this stop it from journeying freely?

Islamic poets make a big deal of this, acquiescing to be simply a vessel for luminous mystery. Maybe re-read on that Rumi than get it here.

One last word. Herzog’s work is done really. His journey has been vast but is coming to a close. Rather than pounce on him for a film like this, take from his legacy. Don’t be a tourist of being, a sherpa of other peoples’ reality. We’re living in interesting times that require courageous clarity.

And I write this after finding out that IMDb have decided to close down their message boards, which had been home for me for a long time. It has been a decade for me, much more for others. I’m not one for goodbyes, but maybe this one time. Something by way of farewell to people we won’t be seeing each other in some time.

Friends, visiting the Mausoleum of Poets in Tabriz wouldn’t make you one, not visiting wouldn’t stop you. There comes a day when you are called to the back door, going out, you will never be seen again. Learn how to move towards, how to move away, there’s no other art. A tree is useful for someone who comes to chop it for firewood or turn it into furniture. May you come to rest in the shade of having less use for things that don’t make the heart grow fond :)



Akis Lalos

writer on structured narrative and the changing world