Encounters at the End of the World

The best thing about Werner Herzog’s latest documentary, Encounters at the End of the World, is that if you go to see it on a hot day, it’s topic, Antarctica, is like total body air conditioning. Aside from some cool underwater shots and brief profiles of some wacky scientists, it’s missing something: a narrative.

The last Herzog film I saw, Grizzly Man, profiled a bear enthusiast (if you’ve seen the film, you know this is putting it mildly). We get to know him while watching his interactions with bears. Wild bears. Between this eccentric character and the grizzlies, it’s compelling stuff.

Encounters, though, despite the rich scenery, science, and people, doesn’t live up to its potential. There’s a little science, a few profiles, and a glimpse of the community, but not a thread linking them together. A sociological look at the people who work there, in the most inhospitable place on Earth, would have been far more gripping. Who’s having sex with whom? Is there an endless supply of birth control in the canteen? Do they have a canteen? How bad is the food? Does Netflix deliver? How do they not go mad? And how cool is it when they do?

One gripe I had was that although one interviewee talks about the indescribable silence of the place, we never actually get to experience it. The underwater scenes, though a movie-making feat, are burdened with heavy, intrusive music. 

It was nice though to leave the theater and strip off my sweater to enjoy a warm night. None of those at the Pole.

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