This month marks the twentieth anniversary of one of my all time favorite films, Wim Wenders’ 1991 epic, Until The End Of The World. I first saw this film in the early nineties at the urging of my wife, who had also turned me on to Wenders’ superb, Wings Of Desire. Until The End Of The World is part road film, futuristic sci‐fi thriller and a romantic drama.
The complicated plot is basically a love story set in the context of an impending global catastrophe. The year is 1999 and a huge, malfunctioning, nuclear powered satellite is in danger of crashing back to earth and causing a deadly environmental disaster that could spell the end of humankind. In hindsight, this is rather comically ironic, since the reality of the Y2K meltdown was limited to a few trivial computer glitches. Since humankind is faced with the possibility of their own imminent demise, some people begin living their lives differently and as if each day might be their last. It is amidst this chaos and fear that the film’s main character, Claire Torneau, played by the incomparable Solvieg Dommartin, makes an impulsive decision to pursue true love on a mad chase around the globe and in the process change the lives of everyone she touches.
This film has several plot lines that unfold simultaneously. The story is told by writer, Eugene Fitzpatrick, played by Sam Neill, who serves as the narrator of the story. I’ve always loved films with good narration because it can add an element of eloquence and poetry not possible in normal conversational dialogue. Some of the films most powerful and memorable lines are found in the narration.
As the story begins, we find Claire in Venice, Italy, running from herself and nursing a broken heart from a breakup her boyfriend, the aforementioned writer, Eugene Fitzpatrick. While headed back to Paris she is involved in an auto accident with two rather unusual, and somewhat unbelievable, fugitives that have just robbed a bank in Nice. Since their car is disabled, they offer Claire a cut of the stolen loot to drive the money to Paris. Since the end of time might be just around the corner, she agrees.
While on this trip, she encounters a mysterious stranger, played by William Hurt and it is love at first sight. Hurt plays the part of Sam Farber (alias Trevor McFee) who is being pursued by bounty hunters for being a jewel thief. Claire gives him a lift to Paris and then proceeds to chase after him on a journey that leads them across four continents and finally into the remote wastelands of Australia. Claire is also being pursued by Fitzpatrick, who is still in love with her and wants to win her back.
The plot begins to twist even further when we find out that Sam Farber is not actually a jewel thief, but a scientist who had worked with his ophthalmologist, father, Henry Farber, (played by Max von Sydow) to invent a set of high tech video goggles that could enable blind people to see. When Sam’s father realizes that the military is going to use their invention for defense purposes, he steals the goggles and disappears to parts unknown. After three years, Sam finally finds Henry hiding out with aborigines in the Australian wilderness where he had been continuing his research. Henry sends Sam on a round the world mission with the goggles to record video images of family members that would later be transmitted directly into the brain of Henry’s wife, (Sam’s mother) Edith Eisner, (played by Jeanne Moreau) a famous anthropologist who had been blind since childhood.
The plot swirls, Claire is fleeing her past and chasing Sam, Eugene is chasing Claire, Sam is chasing the love of his father, bounty hunters and the CIA are in hot pursuit of Henry and the goggles, the end of the world is nigh and all of these of these stories come together in the beautiful desolation of the Australian outback.
Until The End Of The World has many faults, uncomfortable edits, continuity problems, great actors occasionally acting poorly, unbelievable plot details and excessive length. It is almost three films in one. In retrospect, it would have been better set in the year 2012. With the impending fears of a global apocalypse, the film is disturbingly relevant again.
In spite of its flaws, I still adore this film. It has a wonderful script, a compelling story, great actors, breathtaking cinematography and an abundance of heart. It speaks to the nature of romantic and familial love, friendship and the bonds that tie us all together in the face of adversity. It follows the characters on a vision quest through the complexities of the heart and ultimately into the labyrinth of their dreams and desires. There are also stellar performances by Max von Sydow and Jeanne Moreau as well as one of the best compilation soundtracks of any film, ever. It is also interesting to note that much of the futuristic technology in the film is now commonplace in our daily lives.
This film has existed in several versions. Wenders originally had intended it to be a television mini‐series. The heavily edited, original theatrical version and subsequent VHS release clocked in at three hours plus. There was laser disc version that incorporated a bit more of the missing footage and finally a director’s cut on three DVDs that included the entire mini‐series. Unfortunately, this version has yet to be released on DVD in North America, so the only way to see this film is buy the German or Italian release and purchase a multi region DVD player to play it. It is worth any hoops one must jump through in order to see it. I bought an all region DVD player just to watch this film, which I screen at least once a year.
Happy twentieth anniversary to Until The End Of The World and congratulations to director, Wim Wenders for his powerful, disturbing and transcendent vision of the future.