The key to drama is conflict between the individual and the larger human society, be it the tribe, family, or the state. Incidentally, according to Freud, this is also the key to neuroses. Werner Herzog's characters, however, seem to be in conflict with the entire universe. Bruno S- here playing Bruno Stroszek comes off as a more anguished version of Charlie Chaplin's tramp character, going from life in an institution to a free life in which he's stalked and beaten repeatedly by the pimps whose prostitute he's sheltering, and finally to discover a new life in the American Midwest, a journey that also ends badly. In the end, it's hard to see how it could have gone differently.
In real life, Bruno S. was institutionalized and worked intermittently as a street busker, as does the character. He worked with Herzog in creating the character and this blend of real life and fiction is typical of Herzog's films. Herzog has admitted to staging scenes in his documentaries and argues that blending fact and fiction leads to what he calls an ''ecstatic truth''.
Herzog often gets at this sort of truth by capturing images that are somewhat random and bizarre. Stroszek has several such images that are unforgettable: an old German man trying to measure the ''animal magnetism'' of a hunter's prize deer, an insufferably ingratiating bank man talking to the German Stroszek who doesn't understand a word he's saying, a mechanic who spends his weekends searching frozen lakes for a missing farmer and his tractor, Stroszek riding a ski-lift painted with the question ''Is this really me?'', and most memorably, a striking image of a chicken ''dancing'' on a hot plate, seemingly forever.
Herzog calls the chicken one of the most important things he's ever filmed, and he's actually not being that hyperbolic here. The film casts a jaundiced eye at the immigrant experience in America, but it's pretty hard for any American, especially now, to miss the truth in Herzog's critique of petty bank men who smile while they drain your assets and seize your mortgage. And we've all felt like that chicken at one time or another.