Posted November 25, 2008 in The Small Screen

There’s a scene in Werner Herzog’s documentary about Antarctica, Encounters at the End of the World, where he asks the local expert if penguins go insane. It’s clearly a leading question, because successive scenes show a penguin who appears to do exactly that, taking off toward the mountains rather than back to its herd or out to the ocean to fish. Such penguins cannot be deterred from their method of suicide, recounts Herzog. The image of the driven little penguin is a lasting one, sadly haunting, but the whole sequence is one that pinpoints several things about Herzog’s documentary work. One, he’s no objective observer. He narrates, guides the action, draws conclusions all in pursuit of proving his point. Two, his point about Antarctica is that the people who end up there are like that little penguin, adventurous, meandering and even a little crazy to people who don’t share their wanderlust. Herzog is clearly drawn to misfits (see his Grizzly Man or his one time muse, Klaus Kinski, for examples), and understanding how they tick, which is perhaps why he can’t resist injecting his own formidable personality into his work. More video diary than National Geographic program, you won’t learn hard facts about Antarctica in Encounters, but you will take away a feeling about Herzog’s belief (and that of the motley crew of scientists at McMurdo station in Antarctica) that humanity’s ultimate demise is inevitable. (Red Vaughn) 


Discovery Films, Image Entertainment, 99 minutes





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