Most of us sit at computers all day, weaving elaborate yarns about the jobs we would do if we weren't: Storm chaser. Mountain climber. Deep sea diver. And then there are the people who actually do those things, like the 1,000-odd people who live and work in Antarctica.
In Encounters at the End of the World, from 2007, the grisly-voiced film shaman Werner Herzog visits Antarctica to plumb the depths of both the ocean floor and his burning questions about humanity in general. We meet a philosophical forklift driver who quotes Alan Watts. We meet a particle physicist searching for neutrinos who talks animatedly about the spirit world. We meet an under-ice diver and scientist on the last dive of his career.
Each one feels real; these aren't the cardboard cutout characters of most over-edited documentaries. Herzog works his magic with each one, leaving his camera on them just long enough after they've finished talking to make us feel uncomfortable and reveal the actual person behind the presentation.
And in true Herzogian fashion, Encounters at the End of the World is full of questions. Big questions. About people. And the world. One highlight during the first few minutes of the film comes when he asks us a series of questions about what motivates animals and insects that take advantage of other beings, like humans do. The volley of questions ends with a final inquiry, narrated to a completely bonkers (in a good way) painting of the scene Herzog is describing:
It's that perfect one-two punch of humor and seriousness, a delightful kind of cognitive dissonance, that makes Herzog such a wizard. If you've had a long day—or hell, a long year—stream this one on Netflix tonight. It's balm for the internet-worn heart. [Netflix]