‘Until the End of the World’, can best be described in the words of the man who directed it, “the ultimate road movie”. It is most certainly, one of those ultimate adventures from start to finish, though in typical Wim Wenders fashion, nothing is ever as simple as the nostalgia laden longing for the road.
The 1991 film is a near distant sci-fi epic, a love triangle story, a philosophical hypothesis, a visual masterpiece and of course all set in the backdrop of a rogue Indian nuclear satellite crashing towards Earth threatening the destruction of life itself. A film made in 1991 about 1999, the close future, a reality that could be a possible truth, not a 100-year projection into the future.
The Directors cut, which clocks in at a close 5 hours long, is far more superior to its much more condensed original release. It truly captures the majesty the story beholds, a journey of differing individuals, with different wants, some more practical than others, all searching for each other in a way, only to find an odd form of human friendship even as humanity lies on the brink of total annihilation. As the world lies in a state of inertia over its destruction, the characters of the story discover a sickness, an addiction of visualizing one’s dreams and memories past, constantly re-watching them on their rather familiar looking portable relay devices.
The story begins with a synopsis of the Armageddon like crisis, read out by Sam Neil, who we will later meet as Eugene Fitzpatrick in our story. We are introduced to our protagonist Claire Tourneur played by Solveig Dommartin, who despite the situation the world got itself into, could not care less. Recovering from her former partner Eugene’s infidelity with her best friend, Claire travels through Europe with a drunken aurora hoping between futuristic parties and the 90s chic theme.
In a fate like car crash on an empty Italian country road, Claire meets 2 French bank robbers and agrees to help them transport their stolen money to Paris. On the way there she meets the mysterious Trevor Mcphee played by William Hurt, who later turns out to be called Sam Farber, all the while Sam is being chased by an interesting bunch of spy’s and secret agents, all of whom want Sam captured.
Claire, while in Paris meets Eugene and discovers that Sam stole money from her. Infatuated with this shady rogue and wanting her money back, Claire goes searching for Sam even employing the aid of a rather musical private detective called Phillip Winter along with Eugene hoping to mend his romantic relationship with Claire.
After tracking him from Germany to Moscow, the group learns his true name and that he has stolen an era shattering piece of Technology and that it is the US Government and Corporate Agencies pursuing him. After Sam escapes the group again, the journey continues across China and Japan, eventually all characters end up in the Australian outback, bounty Hunter and all, where they find Sam’s Fathers Research Laboratory.
As they await the perceived end of the world the eclectic group discover how the stolen piece of technology, which we find out was built by Sam’s father, Henry, played by Max Von Sydow, is both extremely life-changing and dangerous to the human mind and way of interaction.
The Movie is a visual pandemonium, with shots apocalyptic like massive Cities and expansive open countryside’s of Japan and Australia, shot over 11 countries in total. Wenders and his cinematographer Robby Muller transport you to this nearly doomed World through the characters circumstances and their surroundings, claustrophobic hotel lobbies, Packed streets with people and mountains of discarded scrap and rubbish, slums of futuristic San Francisco and sci-fi Supermarkets.
Then in an almost a complete reversal, the stunning mountainous Japanese landscape in small town hamlets and the sprawling big blue sky over the never-ending plains of aboriginal Australia. By all modes of transport our characters travel, train, plane, boat, car, motorcycle and the now stoic like walking sequence of Wenders of the “Paris, Texas” opening scene.
Light Plays such a huge role within some scenes with varying brightness encompassing the corners of each set and landscape further adding to that dreary doom impending event but also the moments of pure happiness towards the end of the movie, just further highlights the attention to detail despite its length.
The fashion and clothing reminisce of a cyberpunk and 50s suits with matching fedoras with dashing colours and dirt blotches highlighting the road travelled and the doorways slept in. The substance in the film is cemented by its flawless soundtrack, a mix of some of the finest musicians of their age. Wenders, who is a music fanatic, wrote to all the Artists individually asking each to write a song for each allocated pat of the movie, but with stylistic additive of writing a song that they would write 10 years from now. Out of the 20 artists he wrote too, only 2 refused to write a song, with the likes of the Talking Heads, U2, Nick Cave, Elvis Costello, REM and many more.
Wenders personally believes Music to be the highest form of Art, that sentiment comes so vividly through the film, with many characters engaging with singing and playing musical instruments most notably towards the end of the film when the group starts preforming together, further emanating that unique camaraderie that is so familiar throughout the movie.
The aspect of the futuristic technology throughout the movie is also its most stark and terrifying forecast. The stolen device turns out to be a camera that takes visual messages that blind people can see. The initial reason for such a device was to help Sam’s Mother who is blind, although after many tests they figure out that by using the device you can inversely record one’s dreams and visualize memories. These visualizations are never fully clear and always dissipate just as they are about to reveal a long-lost truth or realization.
The main characters become totally obsessed by the cameras power, each stare into their portable screens constantly rematching their record dreams and memories of youth, each becoming more introverted, dirty, and deranged at any mention of an alternative fixation. As they continue to spiral into their constant visualizations, the once close group of compatriots slowly starts to abandon the addicts.
The parallels today and how we interact with technology is so well hypothesised in ‘Until the End of The World’, the constant refreshing of feeds, the need to capture that perfect moment on screen at a party or in any stage of life to constantly look back on it, digital footprints and data usage, knowing one’s location by their devices all were in some way represented in the movie.
It is a long movie, but a long movie that is more like an event that you must witness. Get your hands on a copy of the extended directors cut in blue-ray, take the night off, turn off your phone and witness the beauty of this movie. From start to finish it is a journey that you wish you were right there in, with depth in each character, stunning scenes, and a story so complex and intriguing that most likely you will get a completely different perspective than another or even a 2nd viewing.
That is the beauty of the film, its vast and complex narrative that discusses the vary nature of the human sole and emotions that consequently builds a vast perspective in its audience, Wenders magnum opus is a cross genre defying movie and one you must fall into.