Movies Not Films

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Until the End of the World

Until the End of the World Poster
Until the End of the World poster uploaded to by user Contempt

Until the End of the World is normally a 2-hour 38-minute picture. So imagine my surprise when I turned on the Criterion Channel and was greeted with an almost 5-HOUR runtime instead. What do I do? I powered through this son-of-a-bitch and watched nearly 3 hours of it in one sitting.

I’m the type of movie fan who marathons the extended Lord of the Rings trilogy every year so that was a cakewalk. But alas, I had to put it on pause and finish it the next night after work. I really don’t like pausing movies for multiple viewings, but it couldn’t be helped. So keep that in mind as I proceed with my ramblings. 

I had never heard of Wim Wenders in my life before stumbling upon this movie. Wenders is a German director, known primarily for the original Wings of Desire. He was at the forefront of the new German cinema, alongside fellow auteur Werner Herzog. Wenders originally shot Until the End of the World with a studio stipulation that it was going to be a normal feature-length film. 

However, after the release of the standard version, Wenders painstakingly reconstructed the entire movie into the 5-hour version available on the Criterion Channel. Wenders often refers to the standard release as the “readers digest version”. To me, that means it is heavily summarized and gets the major points across without any of the finesse and heart that the added length provides. 

…it was going to be a normal feature-length film. 

And if there’s anything that Until the End of the World has, it’s finesse and heart. Wenders also refers to this project as the “ultimate road movie” and that is the perfect description. I used to consider movies like Mission Impossible and James Bond to be real globetrotters, but this movie puts them both to shame. 

Until the End of the World was shot in Lisbon, Germany, Australia, Portugal, France, Russia, and Australia just to name a few. In 2023, it has a retro-futurism aesthetic that is highly reminiscent of the early 90s when it was shot. Not only does Wenders take us on a roadshow of gorgeous locations, but he also introduces the audience to the local cultures. The appreciation that Wenders has for every single location is astounding. The scenery is gorgeous and it helps elevate the hopeful nature of the story to new heights. 

The story itself deserves some discussion because I could “ooh” and “ahh” over the visuals for about 3000 words. Solveig Dommartin stars as Claire, a world-weary traveler who just drifts from party to party, location to location, and is perpetually followed by her on-again off-again boyfriend, Gene. Gene is played by Sam Neill. Claire eventually runs into a mysterious man with an even more mysterious story. His name is Trevor McPhee and he is played by William Hurt. Together, this trio of actors makes a love triangle that ultimately results in… I don’t know what.

The scenery is gorgeous and it helps elevate the hopeful nature of the story to new heights. 

It’s difficult to explain it, but it results in reality. Dommartin and Hurt are the main focus, with Neill serving as a mostly reliable narrator.  Without giving anything away, there are moments of growth and regression in the characters that are superbly written. But then there are moments where the cast can’t quite drum up enough range to make them believable. There are moments where certain characters are incredibly stiff. I can tell that I’m watching somebody acting, and not a character going through a situation.

It’s a recurring problem and I’m purely speculating here –  I’m sure that there was a little bit of production drama with this movie changing location so frequently. The cast and crew have to have been worn down at certain points which made carrying that energy from scene to scene unsustainable. 

There is no way I could watch the theatrical version and enjoy it nearly as much as I did the director’s cut. I feel like there would just be too much missing. If you’re going to watch this, make the time to watch the director’s vision. It’ll stay with you until the end of the world. Available on The Criterion Channel

Score: 95/100

Directed by: Wim Wenders

Released: 1991

Studio: Argos Films

Starring: Solveig Dommartin, William Hurt, Sam Neill, and Max von Sydow

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