Werner Herzog’s latest has self-referential origins: He met his “co-director,” volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer, while making Encounters at the End of the World, and included footage from his 1977 documentary La Soufrière, a death-haunted exploration of a town on the island of Guadeloupe in which a volcano was predicted to erupt. Into the Inferno isn’t as morbid as La Soufrière was: Oppenheimer’s scientific background somewhat offsets Herzog’s more poetic obsession with volcanoes. Nevertheless, Herzog can’t help but assert his sensibility, exploring the ways people all over the world project onto volcanoes a mythic significance—whether a Vanuatu tribe’s worship of a volcano-dwelling American soldier named John Frum, or North Koreans’ equation of Kim Jong-il with a nearby volcanic mountain. It’s the latter sequence that may be the most eye-opening of all: not just the fact that Herzog somehow managed to capture footage of life in the notoriously insular nation, but that he did so in the context of a sequence that deconstructs its propaganda. In the end, though, Herzog’s obsession with death comes back in full force for its finale, which basically posits volcanoes as God-like entities profoundly indifferent to the “scurrying roaches, retarded reptiles, and vapid humans” on the ground. Rarely has the intrepid German adventurer/filmmaker been so direct in articulating his pessimistic worldview.
Published as part of Toronto International Film Festival 2016 | Dispatch 1.