J. & C.'s Movie Reviews

Our Notes on Movies Made Public

Encounters at the End of the World

Posted by J on November 25, 2008

200px-end_of_the_world_post1Yes, there are people in Antarctica.  Encounters at the End of the World is a documentary about them, sort of.  Actually it is more or less about director Werner Herzog’s mystical spin on Antarctica, the “end of the world” where all lines of the globe converge on the South Pole.

Herzog uses this documentary — which, he declares, will not be about penguins — to peer into the world of science projects on the Earth’s southernmost continent.  Why do people even bother to live here, and what are their dreams?  Herzog does a fine job of getting Antarcticans to open up about what they think the world and the universe mean.

There is a double meaning in the title, of course, which implies that Herzog thinks that we’re living in the end times. Sound familiar?  For all the fun made of Christians who believe in the rapture, there are plenty of other groups — scientists and materialists included — who are doomday mongers themselves.  In Antarctica we meet a few, including a team of scientists who watch the giant bug sci-fi flick Them! just for kicks.  Several ruminate on humankind as a species and the fragility of all life on Earth.  If all life is headed toward extinction, humans will be extinct, they reason.  With global warming climate change, volcano eruptions, and meteor showers coming in the future, humankind is going to bite the dust.  With such a grim view, one wonders how these people even bother to live (and that includes Herzog himself).

In a movie that demands a mention of God, we get none.  Herzog shows us amazing pictures of life teeming under a frozen ocean.  He explores the ice chimneys on Mount Erebus.  He shows us a penguin who, perhaps in a fit of madness, leaves his colony and heads towards the interior of the continent and certain death.  But God is nowhere to be found here.  The only gods to be found are images of Hawaiian spirits found on a multi-million dollar neutrino machine.  The scientist who operates the machine says that neutrinos are almost like little gods, spirits who go in and out of his nose.

Almost all of the people in Antarctica, it seems, are listless wanderers, ex-hippies who came to the ice continent in search of meaning.  This is not exactly true, but the tiny settlement of McMurdo — Antarctica’s largest town — contains plenty of rogue individuals with graduate degrees in linguistics, physics, and geology who all appear to want something as unique as they can find.  In a land where the sun is up for 24 hours during the summer, they’ve found it.

This movie would be an excellent text for a worldview class.

Entertainment: 6

Intelligence: 6

Morality: see above

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2 Responses to “Encounters at the End of the World”

  1. Heyup,

    Interesting views on Werners film of McMurdo. It was a beautifully made film as far as the camera work went. I live on Britain’s largest base 100 in summer and now 21 for winter. (Tiny compared to McMurdo) I am going to hopefully make a film about wintering in Antarctica as this is where you get closer to the wild of Antarctica. 21 of us are left to live together for seven to eight months of winter and during this time no ships or airplanes come to visit. At the moment I am keeping a video blog of the adventures we have on base. It’s going to be a bit like “big brother on ice” lol.

    http://kirkoftheantarctic.wordpress.com/
    Have fun
    Kirk
    PS I am not a hippy

    • J said

      “It was a beautifully made film as far as the camera work went.”

      Agreed. Werner knows what he is doing. Enjoy your Antarctic adventure. Wish I could join, really.

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