Encounters at the End of The World


Werner Herzog documentary, about life at an Antarctic station, makes the sweeping polar landscapes look eerie and the people he meets even stranger.

McMurdo station has a population of 1000; made up of scientists, forklift drivers, computer techs and a penguin analyst, all of whom are really philosophers and dreamers masquerading as professionals. These travellers all agree that meeting at the South Pole seems to have been build into their destiny, the logical conclusion to years of trekking the globe looking for answers to life.

The station is clinical, climate controlled and complete with Frosty Boy ice-cream machine, much to Herzog’s disgust. But the home comforts and practical necessities of living in the frozen landscape of Antarctica don’t seem to distract those living there as to why they chose to be there. Almost everyone is studying an area of pole life; penguins, active volcanoes (more accessible than the Congo due to political unrest), icebergs the size of Texas or the amoebas existing under the 12ft thick ice they stand on.

Peter Zeitlinger’s photography creates beautiful, almost space like imagery of the ice-frosted landscape. The underwater world of swimming clams, strange phosphorus creatures and shy, tentacled fish glimmers in the lights from the divers in this dark, undiscovered Atlantis. Then there’s the Volcanoes, it’s contrasting fiery heat, spews gases and steam from its icy crater. These steam vents over the years have created a Labyrinth of tunnels to explore, carving up the ice under the scientist’s feet, leading the cameras through like mice in a run.

I loved this film, Herzog’s commentary is dry and witty as usual but with acute observations. Like all good films the mystery to his question “do penguins ever go mad, get fed up and feel like they just want to leave the colony” seem perplexing at first, (after all this was not “another film about penguins” as Herzog states at the beginning), but are answered later in the film leaving the viewer with a haunting image of life for one penguin. However combined with the beautiful imagery, the individuals he speaks to seem blissfully at peace with the landscape and state of mind quite enviable to those sat in an urban city centre cinema.

Best scene: under the ice diving, the deep walls of ice which appear around the magical Antarctic creatures.

Score: 4.5 out of 5

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