Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

Encounters at the End of the World

By Matthew Frendo

There's a problem I run into when trying to review a Werner Herzog film - I get the distinct impression that the man's smarter than I am.  And smarter than any of my friends.  I may have had a college professor smarter than Herzog once, but…well, you get the drift. 

I am happy to say that Encounters at the End of the World is no different.  This is another film that can be added to Herzog's list of documentaries, which recently included the well-known Grizzly Man and the lesser-known but equally fascinating White Diamond.  Herzog travels to Antarctica (the "end of the world" referred to in the title) to capture beautiful scenes of a place rarely thought about, as well as a group of people who go there yearly to work at the berg. 

An underlying theme of Herzog's work (especially the documentary portion) is the constant struggle between man and nature, a trend that is continued here.  Herzog shows the natural beauty of Antarctica, contrasted with the settlement on which the scientists and laborers live.  It's damn near impossible to really explain what Herzog is getting at without actually seeing the visuals, and hearing Herzog himself dictate various philosophical ideas and questions over what he sees.  I can say that the scientists discuss some intriguing findings regarding life under the ice.  Also very interesting are the views and ideas from the other people who make the yearly trek, as it takes a certain kind of individual to seek out the remotest place from civilization to make a home, however temporary it may be.  The people are a fascinating bunch, and make up a good portion of this documentary, discussing scientific theories, the link between culture and linguistics, and the global warming epidemic (a topic naturally discussed earnestly, given they are seeing the heart of the problem first-hand), among other issues.   

The only down note that I found in the film is that Herzog himself seems to be getting a bit jaded, which comes across rather bitterly in the film.  I'm all for sarcasm, and even a bit of cynicism, but at times Mr. Herzog treats the people there with an amount of disrespect that I found to be unnecessary.  Some of this comes across as funny (such as when Herzog asks an expert in the field about homosexuality among the penguin population), while other times it just comes across as mean (he cuts off a few people to paraphrase their story, which is fine in itself, except the attitude that I got from it is that the person is somehow stupid for having a long story…which presents the question of why he would include them in the first place).  Still, this is a minor element since a) it only happens a few places in the film and b) the overall positive aspects of the film far outweigh any negativity.   

This is definitely a film I would recommend viewing.  Even with the faults discussed, Herzog's still the next best thing to going ourselves, as no other director questions the heart of truth so deeply (and I don't know about you, but I get cold enough in the theater, let alone…).  He may not have answered the all the questions concerning Mother Nature's ways, but he does show that the truth is out there (can you tell I'm excited for the new X-Files movie?).

4/5 stars

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