Expedition to the End of the World (2013)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Life on earth may have originated elsewhere. It’s possible that life on earth came from Mars. But it might also be the other way around. You could say that life in a singular solar system is pretty homogenous in the sense that things are transported around, and the fittest will win—the struggle for all the planets. Life may occur in this cup right now but before it gains any momentum, it’s already been devoured by others. We don’t know if life comes into being all the time.
A group of scientists and artists sail their way through the unexplored fjords of northeastern Greenland and onto places only accessible for a few weeks annually until the place is once again sealed off by glaciers. “Expedition to the End of the World,” directed by Daniel Dencik,” is an inspiring documentary, breathtaking and humbling in its images, and offers a savage sense of humor when it captures unique personalities simply speaking their minds.
Each person we meet is a storyteller. No one is mentioned by name but we remember their faces. Particularly memorable is the man who notices a pile of bones along the shore and addresses us to try to imagine a former life that was once there. Along with his enthusiastic voice, he employs his limbs and hands to help paint a picture in our minds. He directs us to the location of the campsite, where the adults prepared food, and where children played. It is likely that those bones had been there for hundreds of years—maybe thousands—and it is so moving that he is able to grab the audience and allows us to see through someone else’s eyes for a couple of seconds.
Out in the water, we observe the enormity of the glaciers. The director is astute enough to take several moments of silence so we can see what they see, hear what they hear, and think what they are possibly thinking. Observing the cliffs of ice is one thing but hearing these gargantuan towers crack and fall into the water is another. The explorers never seem scared or perturbed by what is happening and I didn’t know why for some time. And then the picture goes on to explore its subjects’ varying perspectives with respect to our current place in the world as dominant animals.
We even get a chance to see the explorers discover a new species. To me, these creatures look like transparent worms of some sort, but they could easily have been strange fish. I use a microscope pretty much every day and I wondered if I look as excited as them when I peer into a world of the miniscule. I loved that no one tells us what it is we are seeing exactly. It makes the microscopic organisms even more mysterious, present but still out of reach.
The picture understands poetry which is reflected in its tone and use of imagery. It makes sense given the director happens to be a published poet. Occasionally, the film is disrupted by amusing but wise pondering of the subjects. One that will stick with me is an artist pointing out the ridiculousness of modern thinking, how many of us tend to fear change instead of embracing it. In a way, our current thinking is the opposite of our nature given how adaptive we are at the very core. His criticism, better to be heard in his own words, involves two cars and a raft.
One of my most beloved documentaries is Werner Herzog’s sublime “Encounters at the End of the World.” This film is its brother in spirit. Herzog and Dencik use the medium with respect and a genuine eagerness to involve us. It entertains just as much as it strives to open our eyes and broaden our horizons.