No movie fits better into our polar vortex theme dedicated to the “chilly” weather we’ve been having these days. Herzog’s 2006 venture to the coldest continent, Encounters at the End of the World where average temperatures almost match those we had in Chicago lately is one of his most typical projects. To me, it’s always the silliness of the people that he’s interviewing that is most dominant. Well, its a silly place to begin with…
Antarctica, so different then any other place, 50 below zero, constantly covered in ice and overflown with those clumsy birds that form enormously loud and large colonies on the frozen beaches of the South continent. But this movie is not “just another movie about penguins” wondering around in a polar vortex as Herzog himself promises at the very beginning . Its about a silly bunch of people who have settled there for various different “silly” reasons. True, most of them are actually hard working scientists on very important missions and some are simply renegades from modern society with a very unusual mailing address - McMurdo Station, Antarctica. What makes them look so silly is the fact that they are in such an environment where none of the every day human dynamics matter as much – simply being human means that they will be present in every day they spend there regardless of their surrounding “anti- civilization conditions.”
There’s a scene where two marine biologists are playing electric guitars on the rooftop of their mobile lab to nothing but an endless icy open space after a whole day spent diving in the freezing ocean. Then there’s the British vulcanologist who likes dressing up like a researcher from the late 19th century as a way of paying respect standing at the top of an active volcano. And of course there’s that scene where Herzog, who is obviously annoyed with the whole penguin films hype, is asking inappropriate questions about certain penguins’ sexual orientation to a scientist who surprisingly has a lot to say about their kinky nature.
Many scientists who are performing important experiments appear in the movie but what makes it so great is that Werner was most of the time totally unprepared for any of those interviews and was mainly focusing on the way they were representing their work and that’s were we can see many funny moments. The scene that summons his unique approach to documentary film is simply called “A Deranged Penguin Scene” where one of these birds suddenly decides to stop following the rest of its group and with no apparent reason marches off towards inland Antarctica and certain death.
A Settlement built to last in a polar vortex
We do also learn some interesting things about Antarctica. We are introduced to McMurdo Station which is the largest settlement in Antarctica with a population of 1200 souls that live under The Antarctic Treaty System. What does that tell us besides that there’s at least 2400 thick winter gloves and just as many snow boots laying around? It tells us that these people come from many different parts of the globe and, while basically living under an arms control agreement, they make up one of the most diverse populations on the planet while being in the early stages of colonizing the harshest place on Earth.
Many reviews have been written about this documentary so I’ll hold off on writing another one and won’t be getting into analyzing the interviewed individuals. Instead I will just recommend watching it because it will be worth of every second of your time spent in this little polar vortex of ours and will give you a truly unforgettable experience.