Normally, when I blog, I blog about programming and my frustration with it and myself, but rather, I thought I’d talk about a movie I recently bought and saw again, Until the End of the World, directed by Wim Wenders.
This came out in 1991, and a core draw was the soundtrack. Wenders asked a number of musicians to try to make the music they’d be making in a decade, leading to fantastic songs from the Talking Heads, R.E.M., U2, Depeche Mode, Elvis Costello, Lou Reed, Can, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Daniel Lanois, Patti Smith and others. I bought it on cassette back then, and received it on CD this Christmas. I could just as easily write a review of the soundtrack, but not today.
We as a culture have a thing about years with too many zeroes, and this fits the end-of-the-century vibe, following Prince’s “1999” and presaging Strange Days (1995), as well as the real-world Y2K. In our case, the thing that will bring destruction is a nuclear-powered Indian satellite behaving erratically and falling out of orbit. The main character, Claire (Solveig Dommartin), finds herself dissatisfied with her life and wanting to change, but uninterested in the oncoming global disaster. Transporting the money from a bank robbery to Paris, she meets Trevor McPhee/Sam Farber (William Hurt) and follows him from Paris to Berlin to Portugul, Russia, China, Japan, America and finally the Australian Outback, and a number of others, including Sam Neill as her ex, follow Claire as she follows Sam and the science fiction McGuffin that I won’t detail.
This is a long movie, just under five hours across two DVDs on the Criterion Collection DVD, and the point where the split comes is right about where the cross-continental chase ends and the next part, the more artfilm part, starts. It has fantastic visuals, but the movie’s pace just drops. “You miss too much these days if you stop to think”, Bono sang on the soundtrack, but when the chase is over, there’s not much left but to stop and think. This is not a weak part, I insist, but the energy is so different, and so much of the cast sits around while the plot goes on, that you could easily be drawn into thinking so.
The key to an end-of-the-century story is the feeling that a drastic change is coming, that the end is coming, and the dread of the next thing. There’s a lot of that here, but that’s certainly been done better. Strange Days, a movie I saw in the theaters and still love, absolutely nailed it. Here, it’s more that everyone’s following Claire than everyone’s feeling the threat of the Future, and that’s fundamentally hopeful. Perhaps Wenders is too hopeful to really hit that tone, but the last disc contains a lot of pre-digital HD imagery that’s fantastic but really dark.
More than anything else, I love Wenders’ imagery. The house party in Venice, the overpass overgrown with trees and the dead mall in St. Etienne, the statues in Beijing, and the great tracking shot in the Outback, they bring to form William Gibson’s line: “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”
I love this movie. I’m glad I saw it, bought it, and saw it again. I’m glad I own the soundtrack. (Also incompletely on Spotify.) It’s now on Criterion’s streaming service, if you don’t want to own physical copies of your arthouse films. You can find it on eBay if you want the shorter cut.