In “Encounters at the End of the World” documentary maker Werner Herzog travels to Antarctica accompanied only by his cameraman and is given unprecedented access to the hidden society of one thousand men and women living there and risking their lives and sanity to conduct cutting-edge scientific research.
Starting from McMurdo station which reminds him of “an ugly mining town”, Herzog travels between the main scientific bases narrating his thoughts in a dry sarcastic style that regularly had the audience laughing.
The documentary displays Antarctica’s stark beauty on land as well as the mysterious creatures and ice structures underwater but equally tries to examine the people working there, their dreams and why they’re currently working at the ultimate destination for wanderers seeking solitude far from the madding crowds.
Herzog interviews several people including the driver of Ivan the Terra Bus – a former banker/US Peace Corp volunteer and a Bobcat driver who was previously a philosopher.
These people are professional dreamers who have found their ideal place to live amongst a workforce of PHD’s who wash dishes and linguists on a continent without an indigenous language 🙂
Towards the end Herzog condemns the degeneration of exploration into absurd quests where people will soon be driving across deserts in reverse gear or crossing Antarctica by pogo stick just to get into the record books.
Encounters at the End of the World is 99min in length. I watched it at the State Theatre as part of The Sydney Film Festival on June 10th, 2008 just before it was generally released to cinemas
Other Reviews of Encounters at the End of the World (Documentary)
Werner Herzog guarantees the viewer at the start of Antarctica docu “Encounters at the End of the World,” he did not travel to the frozen continent to make “another film about penguins.”
Rather, the South Pole’s human inhabitants piqued Herzog’s interest – the small but hearty community of researchers, scientists and assorted adventurers who make their home at the very bottom of the Earth. Resultant pic – one of Herzog’s best and most purely enjoyable.
Scott Foundas – Variety
After inquiring about penguins’ potential homosexual tendencies, Herzog asks a marine biologist if the birds ever go “insane” because they’ve had enough of the colony.
It’s a query that initially comes off as glibly amusing, until his camera lingers on a penguin breaking off from the pack to wander, irrationally, toward a mountain range and “certain death,” an image of madness? Of single-minded individualism? that’s reflected in subsequent archival footage of an explorer being wounded during a foolhardy descent into an active volcano.
Nick Schager – Slant Magazine
At first, his newest film, Encounters at the End of the World, is unusually detached, rambling in its approach to the setting – Antarctica’s McMurdo Station—and the sundry eccentrics who reside there … But midway through, an eerier theme creeps in, all the more powerful for Herzog’s lack of insistence.
By the “end of the world” he means the end of the world. The people he’s profiling aren’t the overweeners pitting themselves against nature. They’re the reporters, the realists, the ones who say the ground is not as solid as in our Shackleton-inspired imaginations. The ice is alive – breaking up, moving in ways we can hardly imagine. Human life on the planet is not assured.
David Edelstein – New York Magazine