Friday, 11 November 2016


Did you know that there are spirits to be found in the magma-filled open crater of an active volcano? I didn't, and I don't think Werner Herzog did until he made Into the Inferno. To be clear, I still don't think he does even today, though no extensive knowledge of his canon of work is required to gather that none of us will ever be clear on what Werner Herzog actually thinks. Of course, there aren't spirits to be found within any part of any volcano, but Herzog finds souls there nonetheless, in this documentary excavation of our past and our future, through our own selves. Those enjoying the scientific studies of Into the Inferno's opening section, and intrigued by the presence of volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer may feel deflation upon discerning Herzog's true intentions - an ethnological study of how humanity and its habitat have both been shaped by these ferocious natural menaces. They continue to give new form to this planet even now, and present their neighbours with real, life-threatening peril; it is only at the extremes of human existence that one learns of our core character as homo sapiens. Herzog observes lives largely untouched by the trivialities of modern, Western cultures, and ventures back to the origin of our species, examining life and death thus at its beginning and at what we perceive at its end, our most recent memories: the present. It's an alarming observation, as he then observes similar lives, only under the lure of Western culture, and creates disarming juxtapositions between that beginning and this end, between life and death - a death that may come by our own hands, and not by the hands of Mother Nature. Into the Inferno is thus not at all the documentary you anticipate, even during viewing, but its provocative depth of thought is stimulating, and Herzog's signature verve and ambition are as beguiling as ever.