Encounters At The End Of The World

Encounters At The End Of The World

****1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

If you want a good PR job done on your continent don’t ask Werner Herzog to make a movie about it. He has an Armageddon sense of humour and likes nothing better than to seek out the absurd in the magnificent. His attitude towards penguins in Encounters At The End Of The World is a classic case in point.

Practically everyone who goes to the Antarctic comes back shocked by its awe – the beauty, the silence, the last great wilderness, the penguins. Herzog likes the eccentricity of the place and the fact that it attracts interesting people. Remembering his volatile friendship with Klaus Kinski, with whom he made the extraordinary Aguirre, Woyzeck, Nosferatu, Fitzcarraldo and Cobra Verde, “interesting” takes on anarchic overtones.

The US base at McMurdo contains 1000 people and is "what a future space settlement would look like.” Massive machines operate on the ice and you couldn’t throw a snowball without hitting a scientist. The money being spent on research is mind numbing. A huge silver balloon rises like the ghost of King Condom to discover the secrets in the upper atmosphere of a tiny organism most people have never heard of. Every time you breathe millions of these things go up your nose. Why?

The title is well chosen, because one of the joys of this uniquely off centre documentary is the cast of characters, such as the international banker who drives a bus, the philosopher who works as a forklift driver, the volcanologist from Cambridge who plays his guitar on the roof, the lady from (it must be) California whose party trick is being packed into a holdall, and the head of the diving crew with a passion for sci-fi who divulges the horrors of the deep (“They have more scary blobs down there than you’ve ever seen in the movies”) with tired resignation.

Herzog narrates. What he’s talking about and looking for is oddity masquerading as normality, like the people with plastic buckets over their heads, learning to cope in a whiteout. He asks questions not in the tourist brochure (“Is there such a thing as insanity amongst penguins?”).

The film is hilarious, which is unexpected and entirely due to the director’s devotion to black humour. For someone who believes that the human race is doomed, he cannot help but enjoy its idiosyncrasies and take pleasure in the occasional wonder, such as giant, floating jellyfish, while keeping up to speed on “the beautiful worm that lives up the anus” of some ungrateful, nameless creature.

To balance this and express the serenity of snow, Henry Kaiser and David Lindley’s music is sublime.

Reviewed on: 27 Jun 2008
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Encounters At The End Of The World packshot
The infamous director Werner Herzog visits the Antarctic, determined not to make a movie about penguins.

Director: Werner Herzog

Starring: Werner Herzog

Year: 2007

Runtime: 99 minutes

Country: US


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