Expedition to the End of the World

Hot wind from gasbags wafts across the frozen tundra
Daniel Dencik
Daniel Richter, Tal Rosenweig, Per Bak Jensen, Jonas Bergsoe
The Setup: 
Group of douchebags pontificate in unexplored region of Greenland.

There is a total dearth of movies to see right now, when suddenly this appears at the Gene Siskel Film Center [where the super-artsy movies are shown] and sounds really interesting: Because of climate change, certain areas of Greenland that had been covered over by glaicers for thousands of years are now exposed, and they're going to explore the area in a three-master schooner. And instead of setting out with a specific scientific goal, they sent a wide variety of people, geologists, artists, marine biologists, etc., to "begin with an opportunity and see where it takes us." Unfortunately, it turns out to take them precisely nowhere.

There's the captain, the zoologist, the art photographer, the artists, the geologist, the marine biologist, and more, and that is how they are known throughout. As in, someone will say "I was talking to the archaeologist last night..." We do not hear an actual name until the final minutes. Now, I was all into this concept and ready to go with it until I started to hate my first participant, one of the artists, who trips and accidentally discharges his gun, but when someone says something, cuts him off with "Whatever!" He soon reveals himself as someone who aspires to be the douchiest of Bushwick douchebag wannabes, nothing but a collection of extremely affected statements such as, on global warming: "So it'll all heat up--so what? Mankind will survive. We'll invade Switzerland. 'We need two cars...' oh no! Maybe now we need rafts." He also gazes on the preserved remains of a musk-ox and muses: "Isn't it beautiful that it will always end like this?" So right from the start one starts looking forward to his parts, just so one can hate him. And he hasn't even yet looked at a catalog of toilets and tables and observed that they "have no similarity to a fish."

But for now we are still affording the other people, and the filmmaker, a bit of respect. So first the zoologist looks at the remains of a musk-ox and says "the world talks to me in tiny signs," while the arist offers his aforementioned insights. The archaeologist says a series of flat stones could be a human habitation, but he can't find anything to verify that. They find a new species of worm, and the marine biologist teaches us that "their ancestors were less sophisticated... and their descendants will be more sophisticated." Really? You mean like ALL LIFE ON EARTH? By now you're questioning whether she's qualified to know that this is a new species. She is also the only woman on the ship, by the way, which apparently creates no issues. We never see anyone have a fight, and only one mildly cross sentence. That's hard to believe, and by now one is also starting to ask: "Where is the filmmaker?" What is his role in all this? Then you suddenly ask: WHY a three-masted schooner? It's kind of the worst choice to bring up into that environment [although it does offer artsy images that recall Shackleton and the Endurance], and since they NEVER use the sails, there's no need for this kind of ship, right? No need except for purposes of pretension. Speaking of pretension, did I mention that the soundtrack here is by Mozart... and Metallica?

But you're getting gorgeous scenery and amazing nature footage. right? Ummm.... well, not really. Turns out the area is mostly just barren plains. Pretty, sure, but nothing compared to any nature film released since BBC's Earth miniseries. There are a few moments of minor beauty or interest, but not many. You mostly just have to amuse yourself with your own thoughts, like when the biologist wakes up new bacteria that have been dormant for eons... has she NEVER seen a horror movie? But even that... pretty lame, right? Not really that funny. You see what I was reduced to.

I began the movie like "How do those artists get to go on this expedition? Wouldn't that be cool? How could I go on something like that?" and halfway through was like "What an absolute nightmare to be trapped on that ship with those people! And no escape!" A peak of humor is reached when we finally see the work of the artists and are presented with LITERAL crayon drawings. That look like the work of five-year-olds. Now, before you go all snooty and scoffing on me, know that I AM familiar with the work of Cy Twombly and numerous other contemporary non-representational artists, and this is NOT THAT. Soon the geologist is telling us that life on Earth may have originated on Mars. At the end we have a guy [I forgot his function on the ship] who says when he gets off watch, he goes downstairs and tries to figure out the meaning of life. Only--he's not kidding. He does a series of magic marker drawings of structures that he believes describe the meaning of life, and this is where the banalities start flying thick and fast: "Humankind of just one species among many..." and "In a few years, someone might be looking at our bones..." and "We're just a parenthesis in the development on the Earth." Jesus, dude, if you're going to make shallow metaphors, at least get your punctuation right!

At the end of it, after no discernable progress or arc having been achieved, it's time to leave. But oh no--the ice is closing up all around them! They might get stuck! Cue more Shackleton evocations! There is the briefest moment of tension... might this motley group be stuck together, pummeling each other with their Huffington Post-level musings forever? Personally, I am skeptical that they actually were stuck in the ice for more than five minutes, I think that footage was assembled near the end to give the film some sort of closure and sense of urgency. And as soon as the ice clears, what do we see? Wait for it. Waiiiiiiiit.... We see... DOLPHINS.

I can see that some projects without clear expected outcomes might not all turn out great. You put a group of people together, you throw them into a circumstance without a clear resolution, sometimes what you get is interesting, sometimes not. The thing is, if what you wind up with is not interesting, if you go out and pretty much come back with nothing, then DON'T RELEASE A MOVIE. They also had the option to find out if any of these people had anything, anything at all, of interest to say before they sent them out there. Again, I have no evidence for this, but I'm prepared to believe that the director got the funding and pretty much just invited his circle of friends for trip.

Regardless, a piece of shit. You have a lot better things to do.

Should you watch it: