Until the End of the World (1992)

Two foreign movies currently on display, Kieslowsky's “The Double Life of Veronique” and Wim Wenders' “Until the End of the World,” exemplify a distinctive kind of contemporary European film. On the surface, there is nothing common between the two films. Yet, both are products of societies and cultures that recently underwent major social and political upheaval and as such demonstrate the problems faced by European filmmakers at present.

Wenders' “Until the End of the World,” is set in l999. As the film opens, the narrator informs us that an Indian nuclear satellite has swung out of orbit and threatens to crash to earth, to destroy all life. “The rest of the world is in a panic,” the narrator goes on, “but Claire couldn't care less.”

After driving back to Paris, Claire (Solveig Dommartin), becomes the willing accomplice for a pair of loutish thieves who have just robbed a bank in Nice. She agrees to transport the loot to Paris in exchange for one-third of the cut. Along the way, Claire picks up Sam Farber (William Hurt), an American on the run, but we don't know from whom or from what. She's attracted to Sam, for his looks and his taste in music; we hear a tape of songs by pygmy children in Cameroon. Meanwhile, Claire's lover Gene (Sam Neill), a novelist based in Paris, is waiting with patience.

Globetrotting, the trail leads from Paris to Lisbon, Berlin, Moscow, Beijing, Tokyo, and San Francisco. It finally ends in Australia, where another story, a family melodrama, begins, revolving around Sam's father, Henry (Max von Sydow), a brilliant scientist, and Sam's blind mother Edith (Jeanne Moreau).

In his underground laboratory, Henry has been perfecting a camera that will allow the blind to see: It records the impulses of a brain when it contemplates an image, then feeds those impulses into the brain of the blind person, providing an equivalent of sight. But the camera is also an alienating device, “sucking out the dreams of almost anybody and anything.”

Dangerously addicted to the taped images of their dreams, Claire and Sam lie listlessly about the outback all day, refusing even to eat. Instead, they either dream of dreams or watch those dreams on video monitors. Each person isolates himself/herself from the others. It's the video age as a real-life nightmare, with time and the world of commonplace coming to a halt. Only Gene continues to believe “in the magic and the healing power of the word.”

Much of the movie is absurd, and some of the text downright pretentious. However, what's appealing about the saga is its looseness, since the narrative appears to be composed of music-like riffs, even if it's not always possible to tell whether Wenders knows when he's gone over the edge.

We learn that Sam's mother, Edith Eisner, met her husband in Lisbon when she was 12, and both were running away from the Nazis. The tale ends in 2001, when Sam visits his father's cemetery. The last image is of Claire in a space ship.

It is a time of great sophistication in technology impersonal communication, travel and lifestyle. Video telephones, monitors and hand-held tracking machines make it possible to observe the movements of people anywhere on the globe. Yet the hearts and minds of people are more isolated than ever before.

A sprawling tale of one man's obsessive search for love and the pilgrimage of self-discovery, “Until the End of the World” tells a passionate love story, an examination of the seductive and destructive power of dreams. Sam, a mysterious man on a fascinating mission, and Claire is the disenchanted woman whose interest in life is revived by her chance meeting with Farber.

For some critics, “Until the End” represents the ultimate road movie, shifting from the sinking Palazzos of Venice to the crowded confusion of Tokyo, through the streets of San Francisco and into the vast, empty reaches of the Australian outback, challenging viewers to journey to a place that is the end of the world–and perhaps the beginning of a new one. The movie begins as a search for love, evolves into a quest to understand dreams and the nature of the human soul, until, finally, it becomes a metaphor for mankind's search for salvation.

Time will tell whether it's Wenders' grandest film or grandest folly Nonetheless, “Until the End of the World” offers viewers a vision of mankind on the brink of the next century, struggling with the problems of love, art, and dreams. It asks viewers to consider issues raised by Wenders in other films: the nature of romantic love, the allegiance of family versus the lure of freedom, the role dreams play in our lives and the disease of images, created by the new technologies, which threaten language systems.

“Until the End of the World” contains a spectacular collection of music from internationally recognized artists, including: REM, U2, Peter Gabriel, Lou Reed, Patti Smith and Fred Smith, Talking Heads, Crime and the City Solution.

Wenders' work has always been more appreciated by the cognoscenti than the general public; most of his pictures have fared poorly at the box office. However, there is no denying the relevancy of Wenders' thematic concern, specifically the effect of biculturalism on interpersonal communication–and the creative process itself.

This is my first review in l992, the year people speculate about the prospects of a European Union. It's still too early to tell what a cinema of unification would look like, or whether it would become a pattern of filmmaking in the new European Community.

End Note

Solveig Dommartin, the director's real-life companion, made her screen debut in Wenders' “Wings of Desire,” as the trapeze artist who falls in love with an angel.