Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Encounters at the End of the World (Second Review)


When the producers of this film asked Werner Herzog to make a film in Antarctica, he told them he wouldn’t make one more film about fluffy penguins. I don’t think anyone expected that he would, Werner is not that sort of film-maker. He has always been interested in extremes, in human behavior, in environment, in just about anything. So what he made is an excellent study of many things down on the bottom of the world, but mostly of the people who live and work there.

There are plenty of reasons for scientists to live at McMurdo and other remote locations. There’s lots of things to study. Volcanoes, icebergs, life under the ice, seals, and, of course, penguins. He shows us all of this, talking to people who are totally in love with the work they are doing. The iceberg man points out that B-15, calved in 2000 from the Ross Ice Shelf, is not only bigger than the Titanic, bigger than the iceberg that sunk the Titanic, but that the ice shelf is bigger than the nation that built} the Titanic. The berg itself was at one time bigger than the island of Jamaica. Parts of it still haven’t melted. Plenty of the other scientists have similar amazing stories to tell.

But what fascinated me were the other people of the 1,000 semi-permanent residents of McMurdo. I can see what brought a volcanologist to Mount Erebus to study the huge open magma pool. But what landed a bulldozer driver down there? What about the plumber? (He is half Apache and half Aztec.) The man who services the Mr. Frosty machine that makes the soft serve ice cream the residents are addicted to? Each of them has a fascinating story. They all seem to be rovers, to a man and woman, always on the move, ending up in the unlikeliest places on the globe. People born under a wandrin’ star, who follow the westward wind, who must go where the wild goose goes. These are the most interesting interviews, and I think Herzog felt that way, too. Add all this human stuff to some totally brilliant photography of things I’ll never see with my own eyes … and even a story of a forlorn, confused penguin headed the wrong way, to his certain death … and you’ve got one of the best documentaries I’ve seen in a while.