Movies »Encounters At the End of the World

Werner Herzog makes it clear early on that Encounters At the End of the World, a chronicle of his trip to the southern most tip of our planet, is not going to be a cuddly exploration of an adorable penguin migration. He's just being honest, this is a Herzog piece through and through and 'cuddly' and 'cute' have no place in this piece. As he ponders the paths people have taken to end up in such a strange land, he reiterates the fact that human beings are bound to become extinct, and when he does finally meet up with a taciturn penguin expert, he immediately asks him if penguins can go insane.

It's a loose and meandering film that treats us to otherworldly views beneath the frozen ocean and up close to totally bizarre amorphous creatures and the wild, Pink-Floyd-like soundscapes of submarine seal communication; we see the strange relics left behind by early explorers under the south pole and Scott's (assiduously) preserved 100 year old tent complete with period provisions like canned elk.

Herzog is most curious about the kind of people that inhabit this remote area and his brief and open conversations are entertaining and often poignant. We meet a linguist on a continent with no languages, a handyman with proud roots and the genetic anomalies of Mayan royalty, and a Russian man so scarred by his escape from a prison camp that he constantly carries with him a backpack that allows him to take off at any minute (it includes a portable raft).

Like all of his work from Grizzly Man to Little Dieter Needs to Fly, from Fitzcarraldo to (BrixPick) Aguirre,?Herzog is profoundly interested in men and women who live in the extremes, often times pushing themselves beyond the limits of society (not just geographically). In Antarctica he finds those characters in spades, but learns more about the beauty of our deep human need to explore, learn, and dream than I think he expected.

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Posted on August 10, 2009

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