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Film / Until the End of the World

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"1999 was the year the Indian nuclear satellite went out of control. No one knew where it would land. It soared above the ozone layer like a lethal bird of prey."

Until the End of the World is a 1991 film directed by Wim Wenders, starring Solveig Dommartin, William Hurt, and Max von Sydow. Intended as "the ultimate road movie", it follows the story of a runaway French party girl named Claire who gets mixed up with a couple of bank robbers and the estranged fugitive son of a brilliant scientist, and it takes place against the backdrop of an impending nuclear catastrophe, as an out-of-control satellite threatens to end civilization as we know it late in the year 1999.

Various feature-length versions of the film exist, but according to Wenders, one hasn't really seen the film unless they have watched the three-part, nearly five-hour cut known as "The Trilogy". Shot on four different continents, the film saw its cast and crew expand as production moved from one location to another.

One other notable aspect of the film is its soundtrack, featuring an all-star ensemble of various artists such as Depeche Mode, Elvis Costello, R.E.M., and U2, among others. Most notably, the soundtrack includes "Sax and Violins", the final song written and released by Talking Heads prior to their breakup around the time of the film's release.

Until the End of the World: The Trilogy features the following tropes:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: in the year 1999, we will have talking GPS in our cars, and carry sophisticated wallet-sized computers in our pockets, but everyone still uses public (video) phones. The setting was handled very effectively though, and the film still holds up well to modern viewers.
    • Electronics giant Sony allowed several of its prototypes to be used in the film
  • The Alleged Car: The vehicle that Gene, Philip Winter, et. al. use to pursue Claire and Sam in Australia. Actually, Australia is full of these. We even get to see a tractor pulling a train of odd, mismatched vehicles full of Australians fleeing the radioactive fallout.
  • Amicable Exes: Eugene and Claire at the end.
  • Apocalypse How: Probably a Class 2 or a Class 3, but averted.
  • Apocalypse Wow: Averted. Civilization isn't destroyed by the EMP, and life goes on. Only it takes the main characters a while to realize this, since they're out of contact with the rest of civilization.
  • Bilingual Bonus: There are a number of unsubtitled conversations in a variety of languages. Although they're usually non-essential to the plot, explained later, or somewhat comprehensible on context alone, those who speak the languages in use will get something extra out of them.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The world does not end, society continues as if nothing happened. Claire and Eugene break up on amicable terms, Sam (after being cured of the dream addiction) returns to San Francisco to see his wife and son- but he has lost them forever, with his wife remarried. Henry dies years later, still broken from Edith’s death.
  • Canon Discontinuity: Word of God calls the feature-length version the "Reader's Digest version." Wim Wenders only considers the 5.5 hour long version the "real" version.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The tracker planted on the money bag.
  • Cold Cash: Claire uses a futuristic looking fridge to stash the bills bank robbers gave her for transporting their loot into Paris.
  • Computer Voice: "You have left the map zone, Claire."
  • Cool Car: the motorized European police Tuk-tuks; Chico's pink convertible that he drives while in America; and a bunch of odd, futuristic vehicles in the background throughout the film, mostly in Europe and America.
  • Cult Soundtrack: see the Future Music example below.
  • Cyberpunk: Sam's father's device, a camera capable of recording and playing back sensory experiences, has the potential to make the blind see again, but the device also offers users a dangerous addiction to viewing playback of their own dreams.
  • Data Pad: Everyone seems to carry around a wallet-sized personal computer.
  • The Deadliest Mushroom: For 2/3 of the trilogy, everyone's waiting for it to happen.
  • EMP: The effect of the out-of-control Indian nuclear satellite.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: an out-of-control Indian nuclear satellite threatens to fall to Earth and destroy the world's digital infrastructure.
  • Everything Is an iPod in the Future: The wallet-sized handheld computers everyone carried around are very prescient; Claire's futuristic binocular camera is all smooth curves. However, some technology in the film (like Dr. Farber's camera and the computers in his lab) look positively 1980's, and, other technology like handheld videophones was given a strange, neo-classical look. In one scene a character has a conversation on a hotel room videophone that looks like a miniature Greco-Roman column with a screen on top.
  • Fictional Document: Claire's novelist ex-boyfriend's book-in-progress, "Dance Around The World."
  • Future Music: extremely well done and tasteful. In 1991 the director approached artists like Depeche Mode, Talking Heads, Lou Reed, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and others, and asked them to produce music for his film like the music they thought they would be making in the year 1999, as the world is due to end.
  • Future Slang: averted. And the film still comes off as futuristic despite the absence of Future Slang.
  • Just Before the End: The setting.
  • Land Down Under: The latter half of Part II and most of Part III.
  • Magical Native American: the Australian Aboriginals in Part III.
  • Multiple Endings: Provided by the use of the film's Fictional Document (see above).
  • The Power of Rock: A variant, the Power Of Words, saves Claire from the "disease of images" she catches after becoming obsessed with viewing her own dreams.
  • Road Trip Plot: Wim Wenders, considered the "master of the road movie," intended this to be the ultimate example.
  • Space Clothes: European party-goers in the year 1999 have some interesting fashion tastes. Lots of shiny, colorful plastic clothing. On the other hand, fedoras are popular among men.
  • Switch to English: Claire variously speaks French and English, and also some German. She frequently switches to English to converse with others.
  • Truth Serums: A favorite tactic of Bert the Bounty Hunter; Claire being dosed with a truth drug provides two very amusing scenes (one in Moscow as she chatters in English to a bunch of annoyed Russians, and another in Australia when, to avoid revealing information about Sam/Trevor, she answers his interrogations in her native French, which Bert, an English-speaking Australian, cannot understand).
  • Video Phone: Video payphones even take credit cards.