Monday, 12 July 2010

He's Heading Towards Certain Death.

I really didn't know what to expect when I picked up Werner Herzog's Oscar nominated Encounters At The End Of The World. I figured that I would end up watching an interesting and somewhat unique documentary about Antarctica, having learned from Grizzly Man that Herzog isn't your standard documentary filmmaker. I didn't expect to finish having experienced one of the most heartbreaking scenes I've seen on screen.

I'm sure anyone who has seen the film knows what I'm talking about. The suicidal penguin, the penguin who stands, seemingly momentarily confused, before choosing not to follow his fellow penguins and instead begin his solitary trek inland towards certain death. That lone penguin, scampering across the ice, wings outstretched and exaggerating that almost comically pathetic waddle. A black speck on a frozen ocean of white, perhaps deciding that enough is enough. And with Herzog's narration, with his particular views on humanity behind it, the scene is devastating, poignant and all too human.

Herzog took his camera and a cinematographer to McMurdo, the American outpost in Antarctica, a town Herzog describes in no uncertain terms as fundamentally depressing. He outlines what his film is going to be about - it won't (despite the above reference) be another film about fluffy penguins. He is concerned with humanity, with the people who are drawn to this lonely, desolate continent at the bottom of the world, with why they are there, what stories they may have to tell and how they survive so far from... well, everything.

He takes an incredibly unique and interesting view. He doesn't overly judge the people (though his dry commentary does often give some indication as to the humour he must feel regarding some of the personalities he encounters), simply allowing them to tell their stories, and contrasting them to the setting they are within. This setting is not merely the unattractive town, but the stunning beauty of Antarctica we all remember from films such as that one about the fluffy penguins. Herzog also ventures into the water, however, and not merely for the seals (though the sequence on their calls immediately makes me think of The Cove, which will be coming up shortly here...) but also to look at the beauty of single-cell organisms being newly identified constantly, forming beautiful, artistic shapes, with discussions on their intelligence. Herzog invariably manages to bring all of these natural wonders back to analogies about humanity, a feat that cannot be taken lightly and which proves ultimately incredibly interesting.

Yes, a lot of the film feels a little like pop psychology, but the insights and postulations are thought out and presented by Herzog as options rather than conclusions, opening a dialogue with the audience and allowing the viewer to completely fall into the film, emotionally and intellectually invest rather than simply passively enjoy. I left the film affected, though I couldn't begin to explain how. Thinking back on the film now it somehow has more weight than other films, it lies heavier on my body than most that I have seen. Similar to an incredible and powerful drama, which renders you paralysed and forces you to contemplate everything about and around yourself, Encounters At The End Of The World isn't a light film, despite its ostensibly light matter. It is far from depressing, in fact it is very enjoyable, but expect it to hit you far deeper than you might have thought. 5 stars.

No comments:

Post a Comment