Until the End of the World

USA, 1991, PG, 157 mins. Director: Wim Wenders. Stars: Solveig Dommartin, William Hurt, Jeanne Moreau, Max von Sydow, Sam Neill, Ernie Dingo.

Wim Wenders, director of Wings of Desire and Paris, Texas, spent four years and a huge budget making this, the "ultimate road-movie". The result was perhaps too highly anticipated by the critics, who were divided between saying "a great spectacle but a flawed film" and "boring". But yah boo sucks to the critics; I think Until the End of the World is great, full-stop.

The plot is merely an excuse to film some stunning images, but for what it's worth: it's 1999, and while everyone else is waiting for the resolution of a nuclear crisis, Solveig Dommartin and a few other people are chasing the mysterious Bill Hurt across the world (various European countries, Japan and Australia). That's about it, although I won't give away the more interesting second half. And to go with the sometimes confused plot (cowritten by our own Peter Carey) there's some atrocious acting: Dommartin is as wooden as a stand of eucalypts, and Hurt, uncharacteristically, is not much better (although the support cast are very good).

Fortunately, a clear plot and good acting are not prerequisites for making a great film. Nobody raved about the performances in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and anyone who can explain its final sequence in ten words or less deserves a job writing politicians' soundbites, but that didn't make it less of a masterpiece.

The 2001 comparison is actually a useful one. Like 2001, Until the End is long and deliberately paced, and in some spots gets a bit on the slow side; but like 2001, it holds the viewer (this one, anyway) with its incredible attention to detail. Wenders' futuristic gadgets, cars and clothes (where can I get a suit like Bill Hurt's?) are captivating; and even if 1999's a bit too close to make this a believable portrait of a real future, it's still a fascinating exercise in asking "what if?".

Also like 2001, Until the End comes complete with a hypnotically surreal dream-sequence near the end (fortunately it's all resolved more satisfactorally than Kubrick's equivalent); it's scenes like this, and one with a light-aeroplane coasting into the Simpson Desert without power, which will stay with you for a long, long time. Too many films are difficult to recall even a few weeks after seeing them... Until the End of the World, on the other hand, is one you won't have to see again and again, because you won't be able to get it out of your head.


First published in a reviews booklet of the ANU Film Group.
This page: 31 January 2000; last modified 16 February 2001.

©1993, 2000 Rory Ewins