True Films

Encounters at the End of the World


What a brilliant film-poem! I like how the marketing puts it: “There is a hidden society at the end of the world. One thousand men and women live together under unbelievably close quarters in Antarctica, risking their lives and sanity in search of cutting-edge science.”

Superficially this is a film about strange other-worldly creatures and ice formations beneath the the South Pole, and about the eccentric people who live in harsh and unappetizing conditions to study them. But musically scored with a soundtrack of eerie religious chanting, this film feels more like a prayer. It has the same mix of science discovery and spiritual awe you might expect if you were accompanying astronauts on a visit to another planet of life. Which they are. You can feel souls being expanded, and that soul expansion is what is captured here, at the bottom of the world, where unattached philosophers seem to collect as they float over unknown species on this planet. Tempering this exaltation are scenes of the brutal industrialization of a pristine place, annotated by a haunting, depressive narration. The film’s title indicates not just the bottom of the world, but also its end in time. It delivers soaring, stunning visions of life made possible by, or in spite of, dirty, mechanical probes into its heart. Somehow this duality of uplift and pessimism works for me. Others may find it too esoteric. I take it as a visual hymn to science.

In fact if there was such a thing as a religion of science, this film would be a good recruitment trailer for it.

— KK


Encounters at the End of the World
Werner Herzog
2007, 101 min.
$4, Amazon Instant Video rental

Official website

Read more about the film at Wikipedia

Rent from Netflix

Available from Amazon

Posted December 24, 2008 at 5:00 am | comments

  • John Pasmore

    You should check out “Life and Debt” on the IMF intervention in Jamaica (

    Saw Herzog’s film last week via Netflix; love his perspective though HE is kinda predictable at this point with this subject. The images are beautiful and the film just makes me want to head somewhere far….


  • steven germain


    Quote Of The Every Other Day: I Am The Penguin…

    The last two paragraphs of a letter written by film critic Roger Ebert to film maker Werner Hertzog about his documentary “Encounters At The End Of The World”:

    “In the process of compiling your life’s work, you have never lost your sense of humor. Your narrations are central to the appeal of your documentaries, and your wonder at human nature is central to your fiction. In one scene you can foresee the end of life on earth, and in another show us country musicians picking their guitars and banjos on the roof of a hut at the South Pole. You did not go to Antarctica, you assure us at the outset, to film cute penguins. But you did film one cute penguin, a penguin that was disoriented, and was steadfastly walking in precisely the wrong direction—into an ice vastness the size of Texas. “And if you turn him around in the right direction,” you say, “he will turn himself around, and keep going in the wrong direction, until he starves and dies.” The sight of that penguin waddling optimistically toward his doom would be heartbreaking, except that he is so sure he is correct.

    But I have started to wander off like the penguin, my friend.

    I have started out to praise your work, and have ended by describing it. Maybe it is the same thing. You and your work are unique and invaluable, and you ennoble the cinema when so many debase it. You have the audacity to believe that if you make a film about anything that interests you, it will interest us as well. And you have proven it.

    With admiration,
    Roger ”

  • Raquel Torrent

    Thanks a lot for your commentaries and humongous intresting production. I’ve enjoyed a lot the Neocube and your film recommendation and for sure you Technium. I also like your converstaions with Ken Wilber.

    Great to know you. In case you need something from Madrid/Spain, here I am.
    Very best regards

  • xavier

    Underwater images are amazing how do you keep the camera from freezing, wonder if the guys put a sock on it when they dive, and what kind of wetsuit does one wear down there…i have so many questions. gues i’ll have to go see it, wonder if it will play on the imax here in Seattle

  • Gary Sabino-Benowitz

    I rented this a few weeks ago, and just want to add my voice to yours. This is a very beautiful film. Herzogs use of music with the images is just stunning. I would venture to say that if you are reading this blog, you will love this film.