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September 1, 2008 | by  | in Film |
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Encounters at the end of the world

Directed by Werner Herzog

Werner Herzog has made a movie in Antarctica. He hasn’t really made a movie about Antarctica, although, as always, he is obviously madly (like seriously, this dude is crazy) in love with the world around him. It’s more about the people who live there.

Or, perhaps, he has made yet another movie about Werner Herzog, just using Antarctica as his medium. Perhaps.

“Why do human beings put on masks and feathers to conceal their identity? Why does a sophisticated animal like a chimp not utilise lesser creatures? He could straddle a goat and ride off into the sunset.” In Encounters at the End of the World Herzog phrases everything about this movie so that the interviewees (and there are many of them, Herzog using interviews in preference to footage of his surrounding as much as possible) are the real subject of his film; the questions they are answering, the subjects they are discussing, are only there so that we can hear them speak. He is both fascinated by humanity, and slightly misanthropic.

Herzog uses voiceovers heavily. For the most part he is commenting on the people he is talking to. How subjective his comments are is probably lost on him – anyone who has seen Burden of Dreams will know the inhumanity Herzog is capable of. The motivation of the scientists he talks to is totally alien to him. Encounters at the End of the World is pure Herzog.

But. The interviews are often genuinely fascinating. For example, Herzog asks upon learning that the marine biologists he is talking to have just discovered three new species: “Is this a great event?”

The scientists’ deadpan response: “*silence* … Yeah.”

Encounters at the End of the World is a difficult film to interpret. His schizophrenic presentation of his idolised idealised humanity and frustration with the real live humans he talks to is fascinating. But it’s amazing: Herzog doesn’t even seem to care that he is in a part of the world very few people have been to. It’s certainly interesting, but… It’s probably only interesting if you share Herzog’s fascination with people. Or a film critic’s love for Herzog.

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