Hot Docs 2013 Review: THE EXPEDITION TO THE END OF THE WORLD Asks Big Questions in Wide Open Spaces
Specifically, the eponymous End of the World is a place: The northern shores of Greenland that have been inaccessible due to ice-locked waterways, which now, due to changing climes, are open for a mere few weeks a year to such boats and folks willing to brave the moving ice floes.
We go there with a Star Trek-like assembly of explorers, scientists and artists on a very photogenic three masted schooner that looks as if it could have been the same vessel Shackleton rode upon to the south pole, or that Dr. Frankenstein was a passenger upon in his quest for his own out-of-control creation. After watching The Expedition to the End of the World, which I have no doubt will be the best thing I see at Hot Docs this year, the end of the world is also very much a time to be relished.
The world is always ending, renewing, and changing, and as a god fearing species awash in narcissistic hubris, we do love to live in apocalyptic times! There is something about the barren landscape of this rocky shore, one that no human has ever set foot upon until now, that brings out the philosophical and introspective natures of those who get to bring sampling equipment, sketch pads, and of course, firearms along for some good old fashioned 'To Boldly Go'-styled adventure.
Opening with Mozart's Requiem before rapidly slamming into Metallica licks, featuring breathtaking BBC Planet Earth-style cinematography intermixed with GoPros slamming into frozen ice and stony soil, there is a hearty and healthy sense of the epic and the pragmatic in this boatload of scientists and thinkers. It is in the spirit of, but runs a healthy counterpoint to, Werner Herzog's Encounters At The End of the World, where the German director interviews truck drivers and opines on penguins.
Here Danish filmmaker Daniel Dencik contemplates polar bear attacks and the meaning of life by documenting his shipmates as they go about their various tasks. He occasionally gets in the way, as when an on-camera interview is interrupted ("I have to run!") so that one of the scientists can add his body weight (by sitting atop) a coring drill, to help it get deep into the ground for a sample.
At one point, it is stated explicitly that everyone has a clear purpose on the expedition except for the artists, whose job it is to not know, and somehow build something of that not knowing. That ought to be the philosophy of science too. Either way, it's that kind of movie. The end of the world is very much a state of mind. Eschewing the politics of climate change, thought is better spent on being realistic about the span of time that humanity has been around, a mere blip on this planet's long geological and zoological history. Things will happily continue with or without us. Or we'll just move from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to Ottawa and Tallinn -- up until very recently, we were a migrant species.
New life is discovered in the water, some of the boys fly around in a home-made helicopter-dingy, more thrash metal blasts out of boom boxes on deck, the on-board poet accidentally discharges a firearm and later, along with the photographer, proclaims the duo to be petty bourgeois anarchists who don't follow orders! I'm guessing the redundancy of that statement is intentional. They take tourist snaps astride a 10,000 year old animal corpse like big game hunters.
Meanwhile, it is apparent, despite the picturesque competency of the captain and his crew, that they are in real danger of the ice sealing up the pathway back, and glacial ice always seems to be making thunderous splashes into the arctic waters. This sort of big-sky profundity and pontification is balanced with the charm and wit of the crew scientists. If you are exploring the edge of the planet, and the beginning of the end of life as we know it, this is the band of crazy Danes that you want to hang out with.
It goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway: See this on as big a screen as possible. Being drunk or high will only enhance the state of being that is this documentary gem; one that might just have out Herzog'd Herzog.
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