Analysis: Encounters at the End of the World

Encounters at the End of the World (2007) is a documentary film directed by Werner Herzog. The film was shot at the McMurdo Research Station in Antarctica, and is about the people there and the activities they partake in.


The film is composed of footage that Herzog shot staying at McMurdo and venturing about Antarctica: interviews he did with the people there and magnificent footage of Mother Nature undisturbed. The title of the film is ambiguous; while the South Pole is located at the most southern end of the world, the title may also suggest encounters at/after the human extinction. Herzog visits the tunnel of mementos where he encounters a frozen sturgeon, an extinct fish species, and contemplates the human extinction and if aliens archaeologists will be interested in what humans was doing there.

Herzog encounters many interesting people at McMurdo; they are adventurous, brave and often quirky compared to the mundane existence of many city dwellers. He meets the divers who, in order not to limit their range, do not use a tether line and have to find the hole in the ice without it. He speaks with volcanologists who, to study the active volcanoes, sometimes climb down volcanic vents possibly filled with toxic fumes; and the performers who zip themselves into luggage at the station’s talent night and sings from the top of a Quonset hut late at night (even though the sun never sets) to celebrate the day’s findings. We are introduced to the former banker who now drives a gigantic bus and the pipe fitter who claims to be of Royal Aztec descend. Herzog identifies with these people as they too have gone to great lengths to escape the monotonous and venture in search of the exceptional. Some also share his sentiments on nature, as a diver remarks that the oceans are horribly violent and a nightmarish place filled with horrors.

The scientists at McMurdo also engage in everyday activities like watching monster movies and eating ice cream. As far from society as you can get they have deeply societal artefacts like the ATM machine; a peculiar thing here where the machine, the money and the people who use it are air lifted in from far away. The scientists are not unaware of the destruction excessive expansion, spending and consumption have caused, as they too can observe the effects here, far from these destructive societies, where they ironically also enjoy the spoils. Long after the film ended, we are left with the image of the penguin that hauntingly walks inland to its death – a metaphor for humanity’s suicide.

The film explores mortality and humanity in a thought provoking way, the only way Herzog knows how. The film is about living and dying, dying while living, and manufacturing humanity’s own demise.

Herzog, Werner (dir). 2007. Encounters at the End of the World. [Film]. THINKFilm.


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