Criterion Prediction #147: Until the End of the World, by Alexander Miller
Title: Until the End of the World
Director: Wim Wenders
Cast: Solveig Dommartin, William Hurt, Sam Neill, Ryu Chishu, Chick Ortega, Max Von Sydow, Jeanne Moreau, David Gulpilil
Synopsis: In this Homeric odyssey taking place in 1999, a derelict satellite is going to crash into the earth and news of this has caused a worldwide panic. Meanwhile, Claire Tourneur becomes involved with a mysterious wanderer Trevor McPhee (Hurt) who she meets after a car accident with two bank robbers. What follows is a globe-trotting tale of exploration as Claire, Trevor, and her estranged husband Eugene journey from all over Europe and Asia, ending up in Australia where Trevor’s family resides. His father, Dr. Farber (Von Sydow), is working on a daring experiment that will cure his wife’s blindness.
Critique: Wim Wenders is a special case in the conversation of world cinema and in his typically restrained, philosophically rooted style he has crafted a singular achievement with Until the End of the World, an international epic in the most real sense of the word. While Wenders’ is known for vaulting around the world in his cinema, Until the End of The World has even more substance because it’s a film that literally and thematically embodies an elevated sense of worldly unity. The diverse cast and locations are in tandem with a story that involves a global panic but Wenders’ sensibilities are better suited to exploring the opposite of what you’d expect from a doomsday-esque/dystopia scenario. While the narrative hinges on falling satellites, bank robbers, private investigators, bounties, and chasing people over creation Until the End of the World celebrates the warmth, humanity and the relationships we can form. Wenders outdoes himself by surpassing his instinctual genre flipping by taking the existential high road with an emphasis on the restrained emotional beats in this atmospheric epic, Until the End of the World is a huge film, with elevated ideas, and themes but it’s made out of little moments, intimate exchanges, and chance encounters. People seldom raise their voice, conflicts are few, and even when there’s some dramatic gravitas (for instance the death of a main character) serves to emphasize the importance of camaraderie. There’s time to sink into this film, and it’s the type of movie that will seduce your senses, as the imagined future word is tangibly realized and Wenders proportionally, shapes a seemingly busy and convoluted story into something singular and malleable beguiling. Until the End of the World is remarkable in its unique structure and story but it never exceeds its ambitions or overstates its socio-ecological implications. The film simultaneously predicts our culture’s fixation with digital escapism and cell phone addiction as characters grow more and more fixated to the handheld devices devised by the Farbers. Wenders realizes the end of the world is derivative as existential destruction, personal ennui from characters wandering the earth, however, the collective actions in the film, impromptu jam sessions, parties, are celebratory and make an even more lasting impression. The film also features a rousing soundtrack with music from Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, Lou Reed, Depeche Mode, and T Bone Burnett.
Why It Belongs in the Collection: Until the End of the World has all the qualifiers for a Criterion release: An underrated film from a major filmmaker that was panned upon release and is even more relevant now than when it was when it came out. Not to mention, the film was shown in two versions running 158, and 290 minutes, providing dual cuts of international cinema is another area in which Criterion excels. Scenes from a Marriage, Fanny & Alexander, Carlos, Red River and The Leopard (to name a few) all are presented in both versions and it would be an excellent service to have both versions of Until the End of the World.
At the end of the day, this is a film in dire need of restoration and would be entirely at home with a spine number; not to mention, with a film of this size and scope, the packaging and liner notes would be a marvel to see. Distribution-wise, there’s a four-disc DVD set from Ripley’s Home Video and it seems to be the only way to see the film. There’s no reason why the rights to the movie would be out of Criterion’s reach.