Director: Werner Hertzog
Starring Veronica Ferres, Michael Shannon Gael, Garcia Bernal
The movie has been classified as a “thriller”, and there are certainly very tense moments when Laura, head of a delegation of scientists, is abducted by a group of mysterious masked men. The viewer is unsure what to expect and the plot unfolds with plenty of absurdities and non-sequiturs. The dialogue at first is wooden and stilted for the most part, and the acting, too, seems awkward, matching the clownish dialogue and actions of the abductors. It seems predictable and formulaic until everything changes and the viewer is left wondering where the story if going to…and that is what kept me watching.
This is a tantalizing piece of theatre art, easily dismissed as superficial and facile at first, but as the plot unfolds and the protagonists begin to find common ground, the surreal landscape and Laura’s enforced solitude on the salt flats take on a different meaning. She is abandoned on an “island” in the middle of a vast salt lake with two little blind boys.
The two boys bring out the human side of Laura, forcing her to reevaluate her position as a mere observer, a scientist who is objective and remote.
Hertzog’s vision of man’s inherent greed, leading to his ultimate self-destruction is revealed, bit by bit, in the agonizingly slow unfolding of the character of Laura, a hard-headed scientist, who is to make a report of the ecological disaster caused by Riley’s Consortium. Riley has isolated her and two small blind boys – his sons – in the salt flats so that she can experience what the disaster really means to the indigenous people who lived on what was once a lake.
The viewer is, at first, left to puzzle the point of the story, to find the depth and symbolism through stark imagery, the sterile environment of the salt lake against the impending cataclysmic disaster of the volcano – an analogy of the destruction caused by mankind and the unstoppable power of nature that can destroy humanity.
Interestingly the “villain”, a wheelchair-bound menacing figure who can walk when he feels like it, is played by the famous physicist Lawrence Krauss.
I can see why the movie was panned by better-educated reviewers than me, but I was fascinated by the entire concept of how he put his message across. Perhaps Hertzog is having the last laugh as I ponder the meaning and artistry of his film; certainly the last few scenes in the film were surreal as if he was having a lot of fun playing with perspective and man’s self-absorption, showing how tiny we really are in the bigger scheme of things, and how fragile…