By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
Last fall, I got a chance to go out to the Pacific Northwest for the first time, and I considered a Mount St. Helens visit a complete necessity. Perhaps it was being at a formative age when the twin volcanic mediocrities Dante’s Peak and Volcano came out, but volcanoes have always been a minor fascination for me, one I’ve yet to witness any vestiges of first-hand. Suffice it to say, I suggest anyone who can get out there go see this evidence of the Earth’s terrifying might.
Werner Herzog perhaps unsurprisingly seems to have a similar fascination, at least as far as Into the Inferno goes. This documentary combines his typical philosophizing and fascination with unique anthropologies with a subject matter that handily creates both- the mighty volcano.
Herzog does volcanoes- c’mon. This subject just ties into so many of his interests- nature, death, the impermanence of man’s works, and the attitude of different cultures towards all of these things filtered through the lens of living under a behemoth that can destroy all you know and love in a matter of hours.
Herzog credits Volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer as his co-director, a man Herzog met during filming Encounters at the End of the World, and full of fascinating conjectures and scientific fact himself. He’s as much a presence in the film as Herzog, and finds plenty of scientists across a fascinating array of disciplines to talk about not just volcanoes but the very roots of humankind itself.
This provides interesting peeks at the work of a scientist as well, from Oppenheimer’s device to see volcanic gas emissions at work saving lives to the live discovery of a thousands of year old hominid in Ethiopia (the third ever recovered of this age) as a Las Vegas line-spouting paleoanthropologist oversees. North Korea’s relationship with Mt. Paektu is also very interesting, as is Herzog’s interview of cargo cult leaders that believe an American G.I. named John Frum will return someday with copious consumer goods for all.
On a technical level, this is perhaps Herzog’s most gorgeous film at least since Encounters, full of striking red lava against black pumice, lightning strikes in ash clouds, and incredible historical footage of older catastrophic events. The Gregorian Chants that fill the soundtrack feel very appropriate.
Into the Inferno meanders about along the trains of thought of Herzog himself, a man Oppenheimer assures us is not insane in the film (not that I’ve ever been in doubt, but Herzog loves to entertain the notion.
He has a bit of evidence to back it up.
But he’s definitely one whose particular musings certainly follow the tune of their own piper, one which not every viewer will be attuned to. It’s also somewhat disappointing how he’s not terribly stringent about North Korea, preferring to take their apparent devotion to the cult of Juche at face value and of interest solely in the context of his premise, and not particularly in the context of its tragic implications.
Into the Inferno sees Werner Herzog attempting to define the majesty and alien power of volcanoes in human terms, examining the culture that has sprung up around them across the globe.
Into the Inferno (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for philosophical trains of thought
Take a Drink: for each new volcano shown
Take a Drink: for connections to other Herzog documentaries
Take a Drink: for safety tips
Take a Drink: “pyroclastic”
Do a Shot: for the Chicken Church