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Until the End of the World


‘…more of a mood piece than a compelling story…’

Are you ready for the future? Director Wim Wenders ‘ultimate road movie’ takes a look into his crystal ball (in 1991) and has a guess at what life in the near future of 1999 might be like; unlike most ray-guns and mini-skirts nonsense, the results he comes up with are bang-on, with everything including the internet, tablets, google-glass and even satnavs fully realised, even if the screens that the characters use often look like portable TV’s and are housed in old-school phone-boxes. It’s one of the first films that demonstrated how we might come to interact online; the search engine featured here, with a little animated bear buffering our expectations with the words ‘I’m searching, I’m searching…’ could be from today’s 2023.

Cowritten with author Peter Carey, Wenders’ lengthy, overlong, ungainly but still absorbing epic opus is sci-fi of a thoughtful kind; party girl Claire (Solveig Dommartin) gets mixed up with bank robbers after a car accident, but half the loot is stolen by the opportunistic Sam (William Hurt). Sam is suffering from problems with his eyes, and soon a larger prize comes into focus; a camera which can record and share dreams.A chase around the world ensues…

With a curiously low-fi futurist production design that uses bonkers architecture from around the world rather than effects, Wenders’ film is somewhat broken-backed in structure; the first half is a breathless pursuit across several continents and time-zones, the second a reflective meditation of the nature of dreams, worked out with Sam Neill is the midst of the Australian outback. Robby Müller does his usual incredible job with the cinematogaphy, and there’s key roles for Allen Garfield, Jeanne Moreau and Max von Sydow

Both sides of the film are fascinating; if anyone asks what life was like in the 90’s, it would be fun for them to imagine that it was just like this parallel universe vision. Despised by critics and ignored by audiences, this film was originally twenty hours long, but there is a shortened 239 Japanese cut which I’d be keen to see if I can ever lay my mitts on the Criterion cut. Even at just 179 mins in the European version, this is more of a mood piece than a compelling story, but for this version of Until The End of the World, that’s just fine.


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  1. Probably one of my first Wenders film in theater ’cause I’ve had listen the fabulous score behind. So I was totally contaminated before I saw the first shots.

    • Yup, I knew every track on the soundtrack before I stepped into a theatre; these were the days when music counted!

  2. Not sure I ever cared what Wim Wnders had to say about the future, by at that point just happy to see he had another film in him. Cult director. Though of course any director with the sense to film in Glasgow automatically gets extra points. An event every time one of his movies turned up. He’s still working according to imdb.

  3. I’ve often passed by the Criterion version at the library and thought about it. But the running time scared me away. That’s like a miniseries.

    • You’d have to be a serious sci-if loving critic to check that out.

      Consider yourself challenged!

  4. I love this film, for all its faults. The 287 minute long cut (almost five hours!) is better. The European cut’s first half (the chase) feels too rushed, the long version allows it to breathe a bit more. The Australian section also benefits from the slower pace. UTEOTW is unusual – a film whose soundtrack was more successful than the film itself, and it still really holds up. Most of the songs are crammed into the European cut, but in the longer cut they’re placed more thoughtfully, better matched to the footage. The original was cut into three roughly equal parts, each with its own titles and end credits and each roughly feature length – for a long time, Wenders negotiated a deal with the studio that he could screen his cut in cinemas, but only if he was personally in attendance. I was lucky to attend one of these, in London a few years ago. Then it got a DVD release in Italy (legal loopholes somehow bypassed the studio’s influence) then eventually Criterion was able to release it in full, this time split into two halves and on blu ray (which looks great). Like many long films, this pulls you in, it’s length adds to the experience.

    • Thanks for this intel! Like you, I love this film, even thought I know that it’s a tough watch at any length. But it’s also a haunting masterpiece, and like you, I used to play the soundtrack to the point of distraction. I really need to get a look at the extended version, based on what you say, I’m missing out, because the European version doesn’t quite hang right, and it sounds as if there’s more to this. There’s also a connection to Tavernier’s Death Watch I think, with the blindness and the VR…

      • Oh, Death Watch is a great comparison. That film always seems peculiar to me given its Glasgow setting – it’s really strange seeing Harvey Keitel, Romy Schneider, Harry Dean Stanton and Max von Sydow in a rough-around-the-edges 1980 version of the city I grew up near to; it’s like visiting a parallel universe. The dream recording is also surprisingly prescient (in both films) given that AI today is able to analyse people’s brain scans and pick out images or sounds – including a very muffled recreation of a Pink Floyd song rattling earwork-like through someone’s head.

        • I guess it’s no surprise that Wenders had the inside track on tech, but few others imagined how it might affect our lives, and how tatty the rest of the world might end up as a direct result. Death Watch does have a similarly downbeat future…

          I keep hearing about all the things AI can do, but it sure ain’t helping to make good movies…

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