Encounters at The End of The World - DVD Review

'Herzog goes to Antarctica with an almost malicious desire to criticise the 'philosophers and dreamers' who have ended up there, whilst simultaneously doing exactly the same himself'

Encounters at The End of The World is Werner Herzog's spiritual sequel to his 2005 film Grizzly Man in which he attempted to explore the personality of Timothy Treadwell and, if not explain, then at least suggest, what led him to have an eventually fatal obsession with the grizzly bears of Alaska.

The opening gambit to Encounters has Herzog (like Grizzly Man, in narrator/director/producer role) explaining to us that he came to Antarctica (his 'End of The World') having been inspired by some video shot by one of his friends, a deep sea diver. Almost immediately however, it becomes apparent that Herzog has much more grounded notions in flying to the isolated landmass: he is after people's stories as weird and as wonderful as those of Treadwell's and he suspects that if you shake the World, enough weirdness might make it's way to the bottom.

And in the large part he's right. During the course of the film he meets a linguist who confesses to not really knowing what drove him to a continent with 'no languages', a deep sea diver, obsessed with the supernatural, a traveller who deals in long tales so derivative, Herzog spares her blushes and cuts many of them short and, just for good measure, throws in a man planning on setting a world record by pogoing to the pole.

On their own, as little anecdotes about people working on the edge of existence, Herzog's interviews are relatively interesting but the director struggles to pull them all together to serve as anything like a full philosophical story about 'people'. In his opening Herzog prides himself on his accomplishment in getting a natural organisation to let him visit their base, despite him making it crystal clear that his film will not be 'another nature film about fluffy penguins' but then, lo and behold, we get a good 15 minutes about said penguins. This becomes even more absurd and un-intentionally hilarious when Herzog tries to justify his interest by asking the 'un-communicative' penguin guy 'are there gay penguins?' Of course he was un-communicative, he's got a doctorate and you're asking him questions like that.

These minor transgressions however don't even come close to what is, at the end of it, a fundamental flaw in the entire narrative: Herzog goes to Antarctica with an almost malicious desire to criticise the 'philosophers and dreamers' of the base there, whilst simultaneously doing exactly the same philosophising and dreaming himself. Like them, he has gone to the continent expecting to 'find something' and when he doesn't find it he tries to create it in his narrative and editing. Like Grizzly Man, Herzog can't resist making this film a little bit about him; 'I abhor the feel of the sun on my skin' he pompously tells us at one point. Unlike Grizzly Man however, there is no other singular presence in the film to distract from his ego and the film suffers both intellectually and as a movie event because of it.

Herzog travelled to the furthest ends of the Earth to make a film telling us what we already knew; it takes a special kind of individual to have the guts and the courage to travel to and work in such a place, but those individuals' views and convictions are not always the correct ones.

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