"The Wild Blue Yonder": Beyond the World, Beyond Cinema By Hassouna Mansouri

in 62th Venice International Film Festival

by Hassouna Mansouri

One could be surprised to see Werner Herzog’s movie in a parallel section of a film festival. In the 62nd International Film Festival of Venice, The Wild Blue Yonder, the new film by the German director, was screened in Horizons. This section is known for focusing on new tendencies, even new discoveries, in world cinema. Actually, Herzog is a generously inventive filmmaker. He is able to bring something new with each film, either on the formal or the content level. The fact is that the author of Cobra Verde is always looking for different ways to make cinema. That’s why it is quite normal for his films not to be in the big roads of the official world film market, but in the small and narrow streets of the new experimental filmmaking.

In The Wild Blue Yonder, Herzog looks for new possibilities of story telling, for a different way of thinking and meditating using images, but still we can find all his aesthetic and intellectual obsessions. The German director is always looking for the meaning of life. He has gone to look for it in very far-away lands, in roads where it is quite impossible for human beings to move, and has always done so in a very radical manner. With Klaus Kinski, he engaged himself in cinematographic experiences where the human civilization was completely absent, in order to find deeper meanings.

Herzog has explored many possible lands on earth. Now, he needed a further one. He goes to look for it in the wild space beyond the world, beyond space and time. That’s way his film is a “science fiction fantasy”. With this film he transports us amongst stars and galaxies. There is only one actor, Brad Dourif. The other characters are interpreted by the astronauts of the space shuttle STS-43 and the scientists of NASA. The story seems to be perfectly possible according to the actual conditions of human life and scientific researches. Werner Herzog was inspired by the dream of the scientists to one day find a planet where it is possible for men to live. With a deep irony he seems to say it is less and less possible to live on Earth.

The narrative construction of The Wild Blue Yonder is quite complicated. A group of astronauts is forced to turn around after reaching Earth because it is impossible for them to land. Herzog gives many hypotheses for this: a war has destroyed everything; a new unknown disease killed everybody; or perhaps a fatal radiation. Anyway … the space shuttle crew has to find hospitality in a new world. The situation is very tragic: it is as impossible to go back home as it is to land somewhere. They are blocked between a lost world on the one side, and an unknown world on the other.

Herzog’s imagination is even more scenic. An astronaut arrives on Earth and is assimilated as an “extra-terrestrial”. This is used as an opportunity to make a statement on the possibilities of life on our world. Men are looking out to very far worlds and seem forgetting to pay attention to this one that is deteriorating constantly, ensuring that one day it will be impossible to live on.

In a kind of ecologic message, the director reminds the audience that we should preserve this world first of all since it is not yet possible to go elsewhere. In earlier films, Herzog brought us very natural worlds, in an attempt to try and understand the origins of human life. With Aguirre and Cobra Verde, for instance, he transports us to tropical and “primitive” lands where there is no sign of the modern civilization. And these vegetal elements appeal to a mystic meditation on the meaning of life.

In The Wild Blue Yonder, the world is mineral, even more it made of light and colours. Nature is more pure, more spiritual. Herzog uses the images of space to describe the travel of the astronauts. Those of the new world are rooted in an aquatic atmosphere. This very clear blue colour reminds, cinephiles, of the experience of watching a Kubrick or Tarkovski. The white colour of stars lost in space is the same as the colour of the ice under which the images are made.

Once more Herzog shows he is a fanatic admirer of chaos, and how much he is against the order that we try to give to our lives, and which makes us loose its authentic meaning. Apparently, man is developing sciences in order to have a better life. But, in fact, he uses them to destroy his own world. Behind this tragic suicidal attitude there is a fatal and natural potentiality for evil. To make this statement, Herzog uses scientific elements and information, and mixes these into a poetic atmosphere — he is one of the few filmmakers able to do so. Art and Science converge in his deep spiritual approach to give us a cinematographic work that is, once more, inclassable.