A diver under the ice in Werner Herzog’s ENCOUNTERS AT THE END O

Werner Herzog travels to Antarctica to meet strange people, ask strange questions, see amazing things, and foretell doom!

Who are the people who work and live around the South Pole? This seems to be one of the questions Herzog sets out to answer, and in meeting philosophers, linguists, biologists, descendants of Aztec royalty, drifters, and storytellers of various kinds, he seems to have some kind of response. Whereas Happy People was more of a character study focused on a certain group, Encounters at the End of the World is ultimately more Herzogian, in the sense that it pursues his interests more than anything else, and spins out from the loci of his concerns.

What are these concerns? The probability of human extinction; the reason we, as mammals, crawled out of the oceans in the first place; and whether a penguin ever just goes insane. These are the kinds of things that fascinate Werner Herzog, and while it’s rare that his quests ever realize their starting objectives, it never ceases to be engaging to watch how he pursues them.

Along the way we see some of the eccentric culture among humans in Antarctica, and many truly astonishing images of the natural world they inhabit only barely, and precariously at that. The underwater shots of the Ross Sea were among the most stunning images; they would make this film worth watching all by themselves. I do wish Herzog would skip putting rootsy acoustic music in his docs sometimes, though.

But don’t worry, Werner, I still love you.