The Best Travel Movie Of The Turn Of The Century?

Friday, January 8, 2010

. . . Okay, maybe not the best, but it’s got to be at least in the top five or so. Having watched Warner Herzog’s “Encounters at the End of the World” for the first time last night, I was astounded by the fact that such a simple premise — hang out in Antarctica for a few weeks and film it — could turn out to be such a soul-searching, eye-opening experience. Perhaps what was so surprising was that it’s not so much the experience of being there, but rather the people who end up there (isn’t that always the case?), most of whom put our own travel histories to shame.

From the Russian maintenance worker who keeps a 20-kilo bag at his side at all time, full with essential gear for travel on a moment’s notice, to the bus-driving banker who learned Quechua and volunteered in Central America for several years, the moon-base like outpost is home to a huge population of travelers who seem to have nowhere left to go.

As one resident point out: “[Antarctica] a logical place to find each other because this place works almost as a natural selection for people that have this intention to jump off the margin of the map and we all meet here – where the lines of the map converge.”

Getting the point? Kind of sounds like that far-flung hostel you stayed in, populated by travel junkies and general vagabonds from around the world.

The above clip kind of sums up the entire flick. After an anemic conversation with a penguin researcher, Herzog begins asking him seemingly random questions (including whether there are any gay penguins). After being asked whether penguins go crazy, Herzog and his crew encounter a group of penguins heading back to the sea from their nesting grounds. After watching them for a bit, they notice one of the penguins has broken off from the crowd and lit out on his own into the 5,000-kilometer expanse of the continent, away from his comrades. Inquiring whether such a penguin could be turned around and shown back to the path with the rest of the colony, Herzog learns that such efforts would be futile. “Even if you caught him and brought him back to the colony, he’d immediately turn right back for the mountains.”

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