Although sports-minded movie buffs might cast their votes for The Goalkeeper’s Fear of the Penalty (1972) and self-respecting film critics would definitely prefer Wings of Desire (1987), my personal favorite in Wim Wenders’ vast and immensely seminal oeuvre is Until the End of the World. The 1991 epic uncannily predicted our techno-frenzied twenty-first century world in which the need for face-to-face communication has been abolished by a variety of devilish gadgets.
Of course, the so-called message of a film directed by the most accomplished auteur of his generation can hardly be deciphered in a satisfactory manner, let alone reduced to a catchy phrase. It is a truism, after all, that ultimate meanings dwell in the eye of the beholder. For all it’s worth, then, I perceive Until the End of the World as a statement against playing God and refuse to entertain other interpretations. Admittedly, I have only seen the two-and-a-half-hour version despised by Wenders; the director’s cut which never premiered in theaters is almost twice as long.
In terms of plot, the film gravitates towards a slightly deranged scientist who has devised a camera for the blind, a gadget which enables him and other characters to immerse themselves in their own dreams. Recording and watching dreams becomes a real obsession for them, a solipsistic activity with disastrous consequences. Tellingly, the scientist is played by Max von Sydow, the iconic actor from a number of Ingmar Bergman’s films in which the existence of God is repeatedly questioned.
As Wenders noted on the twentieth anniversary of his oddly neglected tour de force, ‘the main technology in the film – to make a blind person see, or to extract images from the brain of a person – that’s what scientists do’ in the new century. ‘I’ve had several scientific reports of the first images drawn out of a person’s brain, strictly represented by brainwaves.’ Those images, he argued, looked ‘exactly like what we’d done in the film’.
Indeed, his cinematic invention anticipated Google Glasses by two decades and came with a complicated memory system. As for the precise look of Wendersian dreams, the album cover of the soundtrack which proved to be more popular than the film itself gives an appropriately fussy idea:I was reminded of the German cineaste’s vision when I recently discovered a video created by a ‘filmmaker, designer and dedicated jogger’ named Carl Burgess. Titled Visual Representations of Running, the 154-second video is a hallucinating interpretation of an embodied practice – hallucinating and haunting in equal measure. Is this what running is supposed to feel from within the human body? Is Carl Burgess a genius? If so, shouldn’t he have channeled his undeniable skills in less controversial directions?
Verily, the outrageously brilliant video bears ominous resemblance to the mad scientist’s project in Wim Wenders’ film. Since the old man’s hubris didn’t escape retribution which, in view of the director’s Christian faith, I take to be of divine origin, let’s pray that the more recent dream snatcher avoids the fate of Max von Sydow’s character!
(Though I wouldn’t recommend Carl Burgess’ video to any sane person, I feel obliged to indicate at least the location of his bizarre masterpiece: http://vimeo.com/104020394)