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Film / Encounters at the End of the World

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"The National Science Foundation had invited me to Antarctica even though I left no doubt that I would not come up with another film about penguins."

Encounters at the End of the World is a 2008 documentary feature written and directed by Werner Herzog.

It is a documentary about life and nature in Antarctica. Herzog arrives at McMurdo Station, the principal research and lodging facility on the continent, and spends a lot of time interviewing the various unusual people who have made careers out of living in the most inhospitable place on Earth. He then ventures into the interior, interviewing seal researchers, microbiologists, and a penguin scientist, among others. All of this is paired with photography of the vast Antarctic frozen wilderness and Herzog's idiosyncratic narration.



  • Abandoned Area:
    • Ernest Shackleton's supply hut, right next to McMurdo, untouched for 100 years. Tins of beef still sitting on the shelves.
    • Tunnels under the South Pole. When Herzog's camera visits the tunnels are decorated with odd mementos, like plastic flowers or a full sturgeon.
  • Driven to Suicide: One memorable scene shows a penguin waddling away in the wrong direction, away from the flock, off on a 5,000 kilometer journey into the interior that will certainly end in its death. Herzog wonders if insanity can manifest itself among penguins.
  • Everything's Better with Penguins: Trust Werner Herzog to subvert this trope. He makes a special trip to see a penguin scientist in the wild—and he asks if there are any gay penguins. The scientist says no, but he has seen Three-Way Sex among penguins as well as a prostitution arrangement in which the females copulate with males in return for rocks for their nest. Then Herzog asks if penguins ever go insane. Then we see a penguin toddling off into the depths of Antarctica to die.
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  • Fauxlosophic Narration: Typical of Herzog's documentary features, in which he can go off on some pretty eccentric tangents. Like the scene where he wonders why monkeys don't ride goats.
  • Hiroshima as a Unit of Measure: Herzog describes the Ross Sea as "an area the size of the state of Texas."
  • Mysterious Antarctica: Herzog talks about how Antarctica was the last blank spot on the map, and how there's a certain tragedy in the fact that after Amundsen and Scott made it to the South Pole, there was nowhere unknown left to explore.
  • Narrator: Herzog himself, describing the scenery and telling the story, as well as going off on philosophical tangents from time to time.
  • Nature Documentary: Of the frozen wilderness of Antarctica, although Herzog is just as interested in the eclectic mix of people who work there.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: Ends with some Latin singing from a Basso Profundo as the screen shows a series of dreamlike Antarctic scenes.
  • Scenery Porn: Good Lord. The photography of the Antarctic landscapes is jaw-dropping, especially the underwater photography. Averted however in the case of McMurdo Station, which Herzog compares to "an ugly mining town."
  • Shout-Out: A group of scientists watch Them! on a computer. Herzog makes a sarcastic comment about how he's not going to make a cute movie like March of the Penguins (he does feature penguins in his film, but in a far more disturbing context).
  • Snow Means Death: It does if you're a penguin and you're embarking on a 5000 km journey in the wrong direction, your black coat a little dot on the vast Antarctic whiteness.
  • Stock Footage: Clips of The Lone Ranger of all things when Herzog goes off on a tangent about man's desire to conquer. More on-point is the use of stock footage from Ernest Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914, as Herzog discusses early exploration of Antarctica.
  • Title Drop: "Who were the people I was going to meet in Antarctica at the end of the world?"
  • Walking the Earth: One worker at McMurdo says that there are a lot of "professional travelers" at the station. A former escapee from the Iron Curtain tells Herzog that he always keeps a bag packed and ready for immediate departure.

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