By: Movie Snurb (A Toast) –
Wim Wenders has released through Criterion his director’s cut of his 1991 road epic. In 1991 the theatrical cut was 158 minutes; his just released cut is a whopping 287 minutes (4 hours and 47 minutes). Wenders has described it as the ultimate road movie, spanning nine countries. It follows Sam Farber (William Hurt), who has a machine that shows videos that blind people can see. He is going around filming his family members for his mother who is blind and his father Henry (Max Von Sydow) whose project it is. Henry fled the US because they wanted to use the technology. So, while Sam is chased through Europe, because of the $500,000 bounty on his head, he runs into Claire. Claire has been looking for something more ever since leaving Eugene (Sam Neill), and after a fateful car crash, she finds the excitement she has been looking for.
Gotta say, I was quite nervous to watch this long of a movie. This is task; you have to set a schedule around watching this film. I decided to give it a shot because I love William Hurt and I also loved the Wenders film Paris, Texas, which ended up really surprising me. So, I thought maybe he’d do it again with this gargantuan film, and he did. He constructed something unlike anything I’ve seen before. The way the film unfolds it’s like watching a book being read. It does not unfold as chapters like a Tarantino film, although you could probably have edited this into a four or five part miniseries. However, the way the film plays, it’s like when I read a novel and I see the pictures playing in my head. Just like a great book, it sucks you in from the beginning and it really doesn’t let go until the end.
I also was reminded of a book I like, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. Wenders touches on technology in a way that probably seemed interesting in 1991 but now it has come true and is unsettling. Reading Infinite Jest years after it’s release really gave me a different perspective on the novel because so many of the things David Foster Wallace wrote about had come true, making his novel feel like more of a warning than a regular fiction story. Towards the end there are scenes with some characters getting transfixed on watching their dreams on screen- that’s all they do. It’s hard not to watch that now and see this as an allegory for our phones today. Except this was made 29 years ago, so this was more of a warning than a metaphor.
The pacing is quite impressive; with a runtime of this magnitude you are always hesitant to watch it because it might be a slog to get through and there’s probably a two hour version that’s shows the bare bones of the film. However, I think mostly everything in this cut can stay, maybe except for a few scenes, but ultimately I’m talking about 10 minutes. Every scene feels earned and necessary. Just like any good road movie, you’re along for the journey hanging out and spending time with the characters on screen. It’s fantastic; Wenders creates a world that I want to live in and a journey with characters that I want to spend time with and never leave. By the end, you almost wish it wasn’t over because you don’t want to leave these characters.
This is also a testament to the actors as well. There is definitely a version of this film where Claire is nagging Sam and annoying, and Eugene is annoying because Claire won’t take him back even though he follows her all around the world making sure she is ok. But these characters do not feel like caricatures, but rather real people that you’d meet on the street. The whole cast brings their ‘A’ game.
Wenders’ choice of music is also fantastic, making this a world that although it takes place in 1999 and is made in 1991, the real world music helps make the world of the characters feel that much more real. If you like 1980s New Wave, (Depeche Mode, Peter Gabriel, Talking Heads, K.D. Lang, U2) then this soundtrack is for you. It’s a fantastic soundtrack.
Lastly I want to give some quick praise to the team at Criterion who restores these films and presents them in the highest quality possible. It’s gorgeous to look at, which it would’ve been in ’91 as well, but now with the 4K restoration it blew my mind how vivid the colors are. It’s up there with Lawrence of Arabia and Days of Heaven as one of the most beautiful movies I’ve ever seen.
Top is the original format, bottom is the Criterion 4K Restoration.
If you’re just a fan of cinema or if you have a lot of time on your hands I would seek this out. It will not be for everyone, and it does slow down once they get back to Sam’s parents’ house, but this is still a brilliant film and one that should be on everyone’s watch list. Just make sure you do it on a day off.
Until the End of the World – Directors Cut (1991) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time Winter and Eugene catch up to Claire and Sam.
Do a Shot: every time Sam struggles with his eyesight.
Take a Drink: every time you look at how much time is left.
Chug a Beer: if you stop the film for more than a bathroom break.
Do some Shots: for the bangin’ soundtrack.