German director Wim Wenders, best known in this country for Wings of Desire, has said: "If there's a central ethic in my film-making, it's that a film should not only describe an adventure but should in itself be an adventure." Until the End of the World is a fascinating road movie which more than meets Wenders' criteria as it leapfrogs through 15 cities in 18 countries during the post-Cold War period of 1999.
Clair (Solveig Dommartin), a wayward soul who is living with Gene (Sam Neill), a novelist, falls under the spell of Sam Farber (William Hurt), an American she meets on the road in Europe. She is intrigued by his sad eyes and a beautiful tape he has of songs by Pygmy children in Cameroon.
While an Indian nuclear-powered satellite swings out of control and threatens to destroy the earth, she follows this mysterious man who is being tracked by several bounty hunters and other interested parties. Is he guilty of industrial espionage as one person suggests? Or is Farber nothing more than a jewel thief? Keeping up with the whereabouts of this American is not a piece of cake. But thanks to the wizardry of computers, it is easier than Clair realizes.
The trek leads from Paris to Lisbon, Berlin, Moscow, Beijing, Tokyo, and San Francisco. Through the miracle of modern travel, the travail is taken out of the journey. The world becomes one big playground.
Eventually, Sam and Clair, now lovers, arrive in the Australian outback with pictures taken using a special camera during their journey. The camera, in fact, is what the bounty hunters have been after.
Sam's father (Max Von Sydow) and his blind wife Edith (Jeanne Moreau) live in a laboratory beneath an aboriginal settlement. Dr. Farber, a scientific genius, has created a machine that will transmit the pictures taken by his son and Clair into Edith's brain. She will be able to see. At last Sam's mission becomes clear: "All I want is for my mother to see and for my father to know that I love him."
Once the transmission with Edith succeeds, Dr. Farber tries to push things further by launching Sam and Clair into a series of experiments that enable them to videotape their dreams and play them back. The aboriginals walk away from this project declaring that they don't want to walk through their dreams with fancy cameras.
Clair's loyal and patient lover Gene, who followed her to Australia, watches her become addicted to the taped images of her dreams. Sam is hooked too. Working on his book, Gene admits, "I did not know the cure for the disease of images, but I believed in the healing power of words and stories."
Until the End of the World is a daunting film which lasts almost three hours. The soundtrack of music from R.E.M., Lou Reed, Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel, Patti Smith, U2, Depeche Mode, and many others provides momentum and punctuation marks.
Wenders, our globe-hopping cinematic philosopher, has said in an interview about the film: "I am troubled by how fast we are arriving at the future... On one level, man struggles with the same things he struggled with in the 15th century, but at the same time human behavior is evolving with unprecedented speed. And it is not evolving in a way that's necessarily good."
Until the End of the World compels us to consider the warps and the truths inherent in our reverence for romantic love, family solidarity, the computer wizadry of the Information Age, the dreams which stir our souls, and the "disease of images" created by new technologies.