‘In the end, there were only images’: A Review of Until the End of the World

Until the End of the World. Wim Wenders 1990/91

Ah, here I am again reviewing a hidden cyberpunk-styled gem for you guys. Yes, it has been a little while, but today I kickstart my reviews with a chunky film that hovers around the four-hour mark! Directed by road movie master, Wim Wenders, and co-written by Michael Almereyda, Peter Carey, and Solveig Dommartin, Until the End of the World is a rather unusual neo-noir film. The plot is as follows:

‘While trying to find a cure for his wife’s blindness, Dr Farber has created a device that allows the user to send images directly to the brain, enabling the blind to see. The creation and operation of such a machine is in stark contrast to a deteriorating global situation, where the continued existence of mankind is under threat from a nuclear-powered satellite that is falling toward earth.’

Though the generic plot synopsis does explain the basic plot elements of the film, it does a disservice by not mentioning the other characters such as the primary protagonist, Claire Tourneur (Solveig), the exotic French woman filled with wanderlust; Dr Sam Farber (William Hurt), the inventor’s beleagured son; Claire’s estranged lover and narrator of the film, Eugene Fitzpatrick (Sam Neill); fervent scientist; and a variety of other eccentric characters (portrayed by luminaries such as David Gulpilil, Eddy Mitchel, and Rüdiger Vogler to name a few) that tag along for Claire and Sam’s journey that spans multiple continents.

Split into three parts (each around one and a half hours each), Until the End of the World attempts to tackle a variety of issues in what feels like an elongated timescale. Part One depicts an ennui-ridden Claire chasing the elusive Sam around the world to uncover the secret of his invention while the world is under imminent threat from the nuclear-powered satellite that is about to crash. Though the audience is introduced early to the peculiar tagalongs that pop up through our journey, the primary focus of Part One is world and relationship building. There are many beautiful and somber shots that illustrate a world nearing its end, suffering on the bile of indulgent excess. There are graffiti-laden walls, partiers suffering from the tedium of existence, and clunky broken-down technology amid a slick and neon sprawl coated in chrome and holography. Claire’s chase here is almost symbolic of the cyberpunk text itself; a genre that is by its very nature tired and world-weary, though ever-hungry for the secret, imagined secrets of yore.

‘The whole world was alarmed. Only Claire, couldn’t care a less. At the time, she was living her own nightmare.’

Part Two and Three can be essentially summed up together for they, unfortunately, add to the bloat of this film. After finally tagging along with Sam, Claire aids the addled doctor by collecting images for his blind mother to see. This happens alongside the satellite’s crash that renders the technology of the world (or at least the Australian outback) useless. Part Three deals with the ramifications of the technology that Henry Farber has developed, the chunky headset not only able to capture real-world imagery but that of the hallucinogenic dream world that is reminiscent of The Lawnmower Man’s matrix realm.

Though I mentioned “bloat” above, there are some nice gems in both Parts Two and Three. I enjoyed the concept of Claire and Sam collecting images with the bulky headset as it allowed the viewer to feel as if they are assembling a tapestry before the end of time. It’s a romantic notion and something that moved me even though it is mostly interconnected with dull scenes that neither matches the serenity or bleakness of Part One. Part Three’s examination of addiction was something else that piqued my interest. Having captured their dreams using the headset’s program, Claire, Sam, and Henry Farber become entranced with their inner visions. Entranced is too light a word, obsessively compelled feels more appropriate. While I initially didn’t connect to this point, I finally understood this as an allegory to the human connection to the past, this again being indicative of the cyberpunk text. There is no solace in the present or foreseeable future, but a harmony within memories of green.

‘It’s incredible. I just seem to attract criminals.’

Now onto the bloat—the film is very long. I understand that the audience is meant to go along for the ride, but the ride should have been at most two hours long. I feel as if there are too many ingredients in the soup, so to speak, themes including loss, ennui, environmental catastrophe, corporatism, addiction, abuse, the list goes on and on. Wenders should have picked one or two themes (I would have chosen ennui and environmental catastrophe, personally) and interwoven them within the bones of his piece. I do understand that the initial cinema release was a lot shorter, but I was unable to watch that for my research, and therefore can only make my judgment with the director’s cut.

While the depictions of the eccentric cast are mostly portrayed well, I will never understand as to why Hurt is cast in so many films. His blandness really does seep into every syllable that oozes from his mouth, and though this should have worked, I feel as if it failed in this case. I was also not convinced by Solveig’s depiction of Claire. Her mumbled French accent thickly coated her English which made her lines nigh-on undecipherable amid the sometimes-loud music in the background. I will, however, commend Neill as the narrator of the film. His voice definitely suited the neo-noir style of storytelling.

‘In science, there’s always tomorrow.’

On a technical sense, the film is composed well, though the grain poorly adds to the age of this film. In conjunction with the film’s solemn tone, the soundtrack is also haunting and often feels reminiscent of Vangelis’ Blade Runner score. The soothing score of Graeme Revell’s Opening Titles fills me with a macabre sense of doom and I urge everyone to listen to it on YouTube. Allow it to consume you and fill your mind with an elegiac sadness that accompanies our cyberpunk worlds.

Until the End of the World is a long, long ride. At times it is poignant and at other times it is slow. I thoroughly enjoyed Part One and can see myself watching that again and again. I do appreciate the morals Wenders’ tries to instill but cannot overlook how boring the film was during the mid-point. I do recommend at least listening to the soundtrack and watching Part One as I think there is merit in Wenders’ art and can only hope that more people will enjoy it too.

Until the End of the World – 6/10

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Written by Dann Lewis
Writer. Real Doctor. Phony Academic. Cyberpunk. Hobby Hero.

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