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It's hard to fully describe how much i love this movie. If you look at my favorite movies, you can find Kubrick's 2001 1, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) which i love for its intellectual and technical perfection, Kurosawa's Ran (1985) for its sheer artistry and grandiose shakespearean scope, Spielberg's Schindler's List (1993) for its emotional power and unconpromising recreation of one of humanity's darkest time, and Wenders' Wings Of Desire (1987) for its gorgeousness and metaphysical lyricism. If you were to round up my top 10 films, you'd find two other movies from Wim Wenders (check out his official site here). I can't explain why, but i resonnate with this man on so many levels, or at least, with three of his movies that move me, impress me and awe me so much. Paris, Texas (1984) is one of those films that i can watch over and over without ever feeling tired of it. It's gorgeous, deeply moving, so well performed, and with such an extraordinary soundtrack. Wings Of Desire (1987) is also gorgeous, wonderfully performed, with an extraordinary soundtrack, and a strong philosolophical and metaphysical message. And finally, Until The End Of The World (1991) is the third film of his that i deeply love. Once again, it's gorgeous, with an amazing soundtrack, fantastic performances, and an incredible futuristic story spanning the Earth. Can you see the common thread here? Wim Wenders at his best makes movies that combine gorgeous visuals, expansive and deep stories, memorable soundtracks and great performances. What more can you ask?
Set in a futuristic 1999 (the movie was done in 1991), an Indian nuclear satellite suddenly malfunctions and starts a journey back down to Earth. No one knows where it will land, and when it does, it will be a catastrophe. The end of the world as we know it is near. But all of that doesn't matter to Claire (Solveig Dommartin), a young woman from Paris with a taste for adventure, drugs and travel. On her way back from a party in Venice, she gets into a car crash. Forced to stop to fix the car, she meets Trevor McFee (William Hurt) with whom she immediately connects. After the car is fixed, they both leave for Paris but when they arrive, he disappears after robbing her. Ticked off, she embarks on an incredible adventure to find that man with the help of her former boyfriend (Sam Neil). Like the proverbial butterfly's wing bat in South America setting up earthquakes in Tibet, Claire will be thrown into one event after another that will take her throughouth the World and end up in Australia. Trevor is in fact Sam Farber, a man on the run from the US Government after having stolen a special camera that can record images from a person's brain. That camera was invented by his father (Max von Sydow) originally to help blind people see, and Sam is on a mission from his father to travel the world to capture images of friends and family for his blind mother (Jeanne Moreau) to see before dying. But soon after Claire and Sam get back to Australia, Sam's father is trying to perfect the camera so that it could now record people's dreams. Quickly, they become addicted to recording, and then watching their own dreams.
I love this film for so many reasons, most of which is the complex and detailed story and its rich characters. The film takes you for a ride around the world. It's an adventure film, a drama, a sci-fi film. It is thought provoking, and entertaining all at the same time. It also projects a kind of future that is almost utopic. People speak so many languages, travelling around the world is easy, and technology allows you to know almost everything about almost everyone. The deeper themes of the movie however revolve around closing onto oneself, and the adulation of images. The movie starts on a grandiose scale. The world is your playground. But slowly, the characters get trapped in a narcistic spiral that will cause them to focus onto themselves exclusively, as if technology that enabled you to travel the world with ease suddenly trapped you, like a drug, in a very confined space. If you think of where we are today in our society, technology has this dual effect. I cover the entire world from home, with peers on every continent, working on common projects. Technology enables me to work in a team that spans the globe, yet, in the end, i am still home. Pushed to the extreme, when one day technology gives us full telepresence, will we ever feel the need to ever leave home and mingle with others? I am sure it will be very tempting for many people. And addictive too. Remember Asimov's The Naked Sun? Similarely, after having travelled the world, our characters perfect a new technology that allows them to record, and then later see, their dreams. Those characters that were not too long ago adventurers, globetrotters, all too easily get trapped by their own technological creation and close onto themselves. Those self-generated imageries immediately exercize an irresistible pull, and like a drug, only the toughest detoxication program will be able to yank them out of their self-induced stupor. What's interesting too is that the metaphor of TV, and images in general, as a drug is quite potent. Their dreams, through portable TV sets, deliver images of things long forgotten. It's nostalgia at its most destructive.
On every other respect, the film is fantastic. The soundtrack is a masterpiece mosaic of cool songs from various great artists. From U2, Lou Reed and David Byrne to Neneh Cherry, REM and Nick Cave, the songs in the movie form an eclectic collection that nevertheless fit so well together and give the entire film a unique sound. The art direction is very creative. Obviously on a tight budget (even if the film did cost $20M which was not small at the time), Wenders nevertheless takes us literally throughout the entire world and everywhere, in Paris, Tokyo, San Francisco, Berlin or Moscow, he found the perfect places to film his story and give us a futuristic feel. Sometimes, it's achieved purely with the location. Some other times, it's done with simple props such as animated signs, TV-phones and so on, or some futuristic sounds of futuristic cars and motorcycles. The feel of a near future is very real. Acting-wise, the cast is wonderful and conveys the relationships and personalities of each character perfectly. The international nature of the cast also lends to multiple languages being spoken and mixed very naturally, adding to the "global village" settings for the film, this human community that inhabit our small planet.
This film has an interesting history. Wenders was never quite satisfied with it. Not that he disliked it, but he felt that it should have been a mini series so that he could have expanded the story and the characters further. At some point, he asked his own producer to pull the plug so that he would be forced to complete the film rather than go on and film a mini-series, which was never intended in the first place. His original cut for the movie clocked at about 8 hours, with reportedly many more quality hours left out. When i first saw the film, it was in Paris in its original theatrical cut of almost 3 hours. I remember when i stepped out of the theater how i felt that i could have easily watched another 3 hours of that movie. Shortly after, i heard of a director's cut clocking at just under 5h. The 280mn version had been shown in a few locations in Europe, Japan and the US, but for legal reasons, it never got released more widely. When the film came out in the US, it was yet another cut that ran under 2h30mn. How typical! Since then, i was dreaming of one day seeng thefull version of the film. I would love to see the original 8h cut, but i'd be satisfied with the 280mn cut. Recently, my dream came true. Even if i am still longing for the 8h version, i had the pleasure of getting the German Region 2 PAL import of the director's cut version (thanks Dino for the present). Shown as three parts, this version was so engrossing that i literally could not pull out for the entire length. I hadn't seen the movie in almost 10 years and was vibrating with joy at every single frame.
If you want to read more about this cult film, there are several dedicated places on the net. You can try the now classic 1999 Video Savant two-parter article, the stale but still interesting official Until The end Of the world fan site, or another fan site dedicated at bringing the full director's cut on DVD.
Until The End Of The World (1991) is a fantastic movie that brings me undescribable joy. I love the story, the characters, the performances, the themes, the music, the cinematography, the art direction and how this incredible film was put together as a whole. I completely clicked with it at all sorts of levels right from the first few minutes of the film when i first saw it. Since then, i had dreams of watching the full cut, and although i'll probably have to wait longer for that, i at least got my hand on what is for now the director's cut of the film. As far as i know, only one place carries the film on a regular basis. If you want it, check out Scarecrow Video located in Seattle, but know that it is a Region 2 PAL release. Also, a few parts are in French and the DVD only has german subtitles. Kim's Video in New York also carries the title, but only a copy or two at a time, so it's hard to find it and they no longer do special orders. To this day, there is no US release on home video except the short version on Pan&Scan VHS to be avoided at all cost.
- Laurent Hasson