capsule review: encounters at the end of the world

No full film review this week, I'm afraid, but next week will bring a timely review of Watchmen. In the meantime, here's a brief look at one of the best documentary Oscar nominees.

Werner Herzog is a legendary name in filmmaking, and his sub-zero documentary Encounters at the End of the World certainly possesses the veneer of effortlessness associated with masters of the art. From the diving footage from his friend and collaborator Henry Kaiser – glimpses of an watery underworld defined by beauty and oddity in varying measure – to the sparkling desolation of the Antarctic snow and ice, we share in Herzog’s wonder as sets out to discover that most remote of continents for himself.

While a documentary in the general sense of the word – Herzog begins in the mining-town circus of McMurdo Station and branches out to many on-going research endeavours like neutrino experiments, volcanic research, and biological/zoological projects, the film is also the vehicle for Herzog’s personal and rather apocalyptic musings. The film’s title could serve as a metaphor for the fragility of human life and the arguably inevitable extinction we face, especially in the face of global climate change and other self-inflicted catastrophes, just as works first and foremost as a literal description of Herzog’s encounter with the people who live in work at, literally, the end of the world. But other than suggesting that Herzog may not be much fun at parties, the juxtaposition of beauty and wonder with a resigned melancholy does have the character of a tone poem, even if the whole enterprise loses focus until it doesn’t so much end as stop.

Emblematic of the film is the mystery of the deranged penguin, the animal who, instead of going to sea to fish or returning to the colony, chooses instead to head towards the mountains. With humans forbidden from interfering, these penguins head off into 5000 miles of artic expanse – and certain death. No one knows why. Perhaps this is humanity’s epitaph. Perhaps also there is hope in the dreams of those misfits who risk their lives for science or for that intangible, all too human longing.

No comments: