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The vast majority of people I know have never understood this film.
Probably this is because the 2.5 hour running time of the original
release is actually vastly too short for the story. The director's cut
is a whopping 4.5 hours, but goes by so quickly one hardly notices. If
you are bored, then you probably haven't figured out what's really
going on. Some notes:
This is a story of trials, of how our relationships to each other, and to humanity and the Earth, are shaped and impeded by technology. It is a fearful story of the dangers of our world as Wenders saw them in almost 20 years ago now. The journey is central here (as it is in almost all epic works) and the story doesn't work without seeing that journey unfold first all over the earth (and no, it wasn't about sponsoring nations--the journey of Sam and Claire et al reenacts other journeys only alluded to in the film, bringing up themes of connectedness to family and place.)
To me the most important theme in this film is the power of the journey and of stories to transform us--a theme so old we may be tired of it, though it remains relevant today. Eugene (Neill) is to me the central character, and any good viewing of the movie depends on understanding how he fits in as more than a side character caught up in a great chase.
One last note: this doesn't deserve to be described as Sci-Fi. Yes, there's some science-like imagery in it, but the thrust of the movie is literary. The "science-fiction" in the movie serves only as an extension of the transformations and journeys of the characters. It turns those things inward rather than outward, and succeeds well in doing it. A truly remarkable and excellent film that got a bad first screening because no distributor had the guts to put out a 5 hour movie. (What would they say to Akira Kurosawa these days?)
I don't know how often this film has been shown in its original length (4hr40min), but this version is clearly superior to the shorter film released in theaters. I was able to see it at screening in NYC. Simply put, there's a layer of resolution and contextuality that is seriously lacking in the edited version.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Until the End of the World" is a movie that has never gotten the
recognition that it deserves. Occurring in 1999, when the Indian
nuclear satellite has gone out of control (and no one knows where it's
going to land), the movie focuses on Frenchwoman Claire Tourneur
(Solveig Dommartin) following American Sam Farber (William Hurt) all
over the world. Sam has a most ingenious device that enables his blind
mother (Jeanne Moreau) to see, and some other people are trying to get
their hands on it.
I simply can't do justice to the movie by trying to describe it. You have to see it to believe it. For the soundtrack, director Wim Wenders went to several singers and had them write the songs that they were going to write at the end of the millennium. The result was beyond incredible. Few movies have ever reached this movie's greatness.
I wonder what ever became of Solveig Dommartin.
UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD (1991) is not like a typical, American
science-fiction film. There are no villains or car-chases or explosions
(okay, maybe ONE). German director Wim Wenders projected the world 10 years
into the future, to 1999. He added only a touch of strangeness, such as
cars which speak to the driver and warn of traffic conditions, or
videophones (which require people to stay stylish and well-groomed all day
in case of an incoming call?)
An Indian nuclear satellite's orbit is decaying, and it may generate an electromagnetic pulse that will wipe out all the world's computer memory. Against this ominous Y2K backdrop, a French party-girl named Claire Tourneur meets two bank-robbers, and the money they confide to her attracts the interest of a hitch-hiker named Trevor McPhee, who takes some and takes off. Trevor attracts the interest of Claire, and from there it's a merry romp around the world as the story crosses nine countries. We discover Trevor's hidden, almost Messianic mission: to give visions to the blind, but not without risk to the characters' minds.
The plot of the story is understated, and there is very little violence except for the emotional violence the characters commit against each other. That makes this film more European than American. Wim Wenders also solicited the collaboration of many pop music artists, asking them for a song like what they would be writing in 10 years' time, making for one of the strongest soundtracks in movie history.
I found that the pace of the film avoided being too languid by the variety of countries and their refreshing sceneries. Wenders carefully crafted his imagery and strongly blended it with sound, albeit the inherent beauty of his film serves to tell a somewhat minimalist story that will nonetheless linger with the viewer.
Few movies leave me reeling, and this was one of those few. I could not believe what I had just seen when I first viewed it. It was like nothing I have ever experienced before. That's just what this movie does, too... provide the viewer with an experience. The plot was like nothing I've ever seen. It was fresh, intelligent, and a bit philosophical. The characters were complex human beings with realistic thoughts and emotions. Not everything that occurs does so for good reason... just as life really is. Thoughts and fears that human beings share are presented in this movie in a truly unique manner. It often plays out in a metaphorical way (i.e. "You're on your own, Claire" = aloneness), allowing us to feel like intelligent viewers, instead of viewers that need our hands held. Every character has his or her flaws, and motivations. The movie does bog down a bit in the middle, and jumps around in an alarmingly chaotic way, but it's too realistic to fault. I found it both enjoyable, and thought-provoking. The idea of addiction to our thoughts and dreams, chasing an infatuation without knowing why, and waiting for the final curtain to fall, are aspects of the movie that fascinated me. I am not saying this as a fan of Wim Wenders, since I had never heard of him before this. I most certainly know who he is now! I had to find out after viewing this movie, which unfortunately cannot be seen in its entirety. It's brilliant, interesting, and intelligent. Great acting, haunting soundtrack, and fresh plot make this movie a real winner.
In its full length version this film is a really absorbing and
enjoyable piece of work. I saw it at the National Film Theatre in
London years ago, expecting to find the length a serious problem but
knowing that I might not get another chance.
As it turned out there were two intervals and the fact that it took a whole afternoon added to the enjoyment... the absorption drew me in.
I never saw the short version but its relative lack of success suggests that the edit wasn't wholly successful. I don't know if the long version circulates in any form these days but if the chance arises to see it take an afternoon off, make sure the cinema has a nice cafe and settle down for a unique film.
Wim Wenders sets a touching love story within the plot of a sci-fi cat&mouse pursuit around the world. Once again his movie is spiked with irony and esprit. The story is more complex than in his previous movies. Who got bored by Wenders before will be pleasantly surprised, although one should be able to cherish a long, slow movie. Wenders shows us a completely technological world, which he then confronts with the "good old way" of life. "Bis ans Ende der Welt" can be understood in 2 ways: space or time. During the movie the viewer travels in both dimensions and will leave the cinema dazzled and deeply moved. Also due to the outstanding soundtrack, including Peter Gabriel's "Blood of Eden" in a unique version (without the high notes) which unfortunately is not available on the original motion picture soundtrack. Great cinematography, to be viewed on big screen only!
Wenders takes the time to take us to another place that is right beside
where you are now, whether you know it or not. Beautifully shot and scored,
the movie rewards those that allow it to unfold rather than showing you the
plot in the first 15 minutes. With an emphasis on personal emotions rather
than "screen presence", the actors reveal much about us all- no super-heroes
Granted it is a long film by "American" standards but who can say how long a film should be? I felt transported to the times & places Wenders takes us, to me this makes a successful film regardless of its length. The storyline is well crafted and the music editing is brilliant; when I hear the music today I think of the film and not the bands that performed it.
William Hurt has a role (finally) that suits his personality. The pairing of Jeanne Moreau and Max Van Sydow is brilliant. Definitely a movie that should be seen at least once in your lifetime.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The first time that I saw this movie it enthralled me. I became so wrapped up in the plot and immersed into the character's intensely desperate interactions, that I felt exactly like Claire: addicted to a sequence of images with sound. It's magical and for anyone who enjoys a long, smooth paced story on film it will cast a spell on you. Granted, some of the acting is a little awkward but it is, after all, a B movie with B actors, and I tend to think that it adds character to the piece. Not to say that the acting was bad, but it wasn't what drove the movie. The drive behind this movie was in fact the actual words, the screenplay, not so much the delivery of those words. Sam Niel's narration so perfectly sets the mood for the desperation and near depravity of the characters involved in the narrative, and being that this is science fiction, this was an excellent goal for the writer and well achieved. Niel's character's melancholy mood, after having a failed marriage with the one that he loved (the main character, Claire), sets the standard for everyone else's character in the picture, and all the sadness and underlying melancholiness just blends together seamlessly to create what equates to the sign of the times for those that have any meaningful thoughts in their heads. Which is very often the aim of most science fiction stories, yet has never been reached to same the degree that it has been in this film. That is the films single greatest achievement, and is the source of all the magic that propels emotiveness of this story. Aside from that, the story itself is extremely well played. There is government conspiracy, but it is not an overwhelming part of the plot where the whole world is in danger and is need of saving. No, in the case of this movie it's human integrity that lies at the core of the theme. Integrity in terms of the way that powerful governments treat people who stand in their way, and the level of integrity with which people treat themselves. In the case of the characters in this movie it is unclear who is worse off: the people mistreated by their government, or the people who have mistreated themselves. At the end of the movie, the characters who go all the way, and too far at that, so much so that they become depraved and anti-social to the extreme, have possibly taken them selves to a place worse than death. Which raises the question: how could any of the characters be truly happy if all they were searching for to make their lives better was a blasphemous addiction to something sacred and ominous like their dreams? They had relearn that what is most important in a healthy life is healthy relationships. In short, integrity. Even still, we get caught up in the character's sadness from the beginning of the film, and it's not wrong on our part, because sadness is a part of a healthy life. As far as story goes, sadness is one of the most interesting emotions to watch. That is because inherent in sadness is healing, or personal progression. Which is what drives all plots.
I have only seen the full-length 280-minute "trilogy" version of this film
(at the 2001 USA Film Festival in Dallas), and I honestly cannot identify
any sequences that could be cut without seriously compromising the flow of
This film works so well on so many different levels -- an adventure, a love story, a question of ethics and technology, life and death, love and family, but mostly it explores the question, "how far must we travel (or how long must we sit in the theater) to find that which we seek, and what exactly is it we're seeking anyway"?
Yes, 4-1/2 hours is a long time to sit still (although, with two intermissions it's not all that bad), but for those of us who enjoy a good film that's not made from a pat formula of committee-designed ingredients in strictly regulated proportions, it's worth every minute.
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