In 1991, German director Wim Wenders released his magnum opus “Until the End of the World“. It is the penultimate road movie. It follows this young woman Claire on her journey from self destruction to finding her purpose to being a saving angel. It shows that we really are connected. The scale of this film is breathtaking. Although it had critical acclaim, it never had a wide audience.
I finally saw it a month ago. After hearing about it over coffee, yet knowing about it for a few years, I rented it. The only copy available anywhere in town was on VHS, so I had to dig my VCR out of storage. Even then it was at almost 3 hours long. On the first viewing, I was blown away. But there are more edits of this film than for Blade Runner.
Today, I took the opportunity to see the film in its original director’s cut, remastered, on the big screen, weighing in at 295 minutes (almost 5 hours). It was amazing. So beautiful. It’s so long that it truly is two movies in one. It shifts gears just before intermission. The first half is a globe-trotting chase of intrigue and exploration. The second half takes place almost completely in an aboriginal cultural preservation center in the Australian outback. It went from “Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego” to “Johnny Mnemonic”-gone-native. It went from an expansive examination of the human condition on a broad scale, to an intimate examination of the human condition on a deep scale.
What the 5-hour cut had over the 3-hour cut was a lot of backstory, sidelines, and asides. We see the reason behind the character actions, such as why Claire was on a path to self-destruction. So much is explained, so much is explored. In watching the 3-hour cut, the characters go from one thing to another, and in the awkward jumps you can tell that there were some assumptions the viewer had to make. Those are fleshed out in the full cut.
It didn’t exactly have a happy ending, but it didn’t need to. It had a satisfying aftertaste. I was absolutely blown away, and I felt the connection to the characters and to the world more deeply. I feel like I’ve been on a vacation. I’m still savoring the flavor, texture, and aroma; it’s that good. I don’t have any life choices hanging in the balance, no actions to take, no resolutions. It’s not life changing, but I see things differently. Just like a road movie, my life is a string of events and episodes with motion but no direction; a ship under power with no captain at the wheel. Maybe, somewhere in the self destruction, I can find a transoceanic current to draw me toward making the world better. Who knows the sea?