Werner Herzog is a man I would like to meet one of these days. More than that I would love to interviewed for one of his documentaries. He has this charm that radiates from him so much that everyone can trust him enough to pour out their soul to him. Whether it is a man sitting on death row, a penguin scientist, or a POW, Herzog can extract the best interviews I have ever seen.
Encounters at the End of the World is a documentary depicting his time in Antarctica. He goes down there to see the underwater world of this majestic and unexplored continent. But what he finds is that the people who choose to go down here are some of the most unusual people in the world. Herzog is never interested in just one side of a place. He wants to see it all. So not only does he interview very important scientists who are researching and accomplishing great work on this country, but he also interviews the guy who operates the forklift, the guy who fixes the plumbing, the guy who watches over the plants that feed the population, and the woman who sits in her dorm room. He extracts anecdotes about life from the people and treats it the same as a man talking about discovering new species underwater. How did these people come to this continent? So many of these people, including the scientists, are born travelers. One man who was stuck behind the Iron Curtain, escaped and became a nomad. A man without a country. He keeps a rucksack always packed just in case he needs to leave at a moment’s notice. This man grew up never knowing about locations outside of his own country, forced to swallow the doctrine of a government he did not believe in, and now he is free. Another man is extremely proud of where he comes from. He is descended from Mayan nobility. You can tell by his hands. A man who can’t seem to be able to sustain a living in his native country, is so proud that he comes from there. It was really interesting seeing both of these interviews interspersed between the beautiful images of the country.
And man what a beautiful country Antarctica is. I wish that one day I will be able to see such majesty for myself. But I don’t think I will be able to see the country quite like Herzog’s cinematographer does. His images are full of wonder and curiosity. He follows a sea cucumber like creature for minutes at a time as it oscillates in the water. I was just as fascinated by this image as he seemed to be. This isn’t the only instance that he follows a native creature. After Herzog interviews a taciturn penguin scientist, the cinematographer captures a penguin experiencing madness. He breaks off from the path and just wanders away. Away from his wife, away from his source of food and away from his community. He wanders away into the vast emptiness that will bring him only death. It was beautiful to watch as well as sweetly tragic.
I want to speak for a moment about the seals singing. They emit a noise that is unlike any other animal noise out there. Instead it sounds like a computer generated sound, a sound that seems mechanic. A scientist compared it to Pink Floyd, but I compare it to Radiohead and other electronica music. If I was a musician (which you should thank your lucky stars I am not) this is where I would draw influence from. I wish I could hear it for myself. (maybe I missed my calling. I am really just a seal scientist at heart… Off to the college!)
Herzog’s documentary is full of little moments of genius. From his commentary to the music to the interview subjects, Herzog proclaims that he is a masterful filmmaker from shot one. He will never make enough films to satiate my need to hear more of his wonderful voice.