The image of an abandoned church has high symbolical value. When the camera gets sight of the central aisle where people once prayed, we hear police sirens ring outside and discover big pools of rainwater on the floor, shimmering from the reflections of sunlight. Like in Tarkovsky’s Stalker, we seem to smell the decay of the post-apocalyptic, but are quickly reminded that we are still in the here and now.
The place where the yesterday, the today, and the tomorrow meet is Detroit. It is the abandoned city, the ultimate symbol of unfettered capitalism gone awry, the home of deserted houses and of music and crime and churches that no one goes to anymore. When the setting changes, we find ourselves in a majestic cinema whose architecture still echoes the songs of the golden times, of grandeur and life. It used to be a workshop, we hear, where Ford once invented cars. Now, with its core torn out, it has become a parking lot for the remaining few.
Detroit is only one chapter in the enigmatic flow of thoughts and images that is Peter Mettler’s truly unique essay film, The End of Time. The idea of making a nonfiction film about one of the most abstract things in the world, time, is in itself wild enough. How do you define the most indefinable measure of all? How do you find images for the invisible? How do you reconcile philosophy and physics with religion and spirituality and give it a cinematic form? Mettler’s answer would be to approach all of it and weave it together into a fabric of filmic poetry.
The experiment begins with archival footage of skydiver Joe Kittinger who, in 1960, dashes through the atmosphere with such velocity that his sense of time stops. For him, space becomes time and time becomes space for a moment. The universal quest for the meaning of time catapults us back to the Big Bang and the idea that “in the beginning there was no time, or time was all there was.”
Our journey then sweeps us into a world of apparent science fiction, a world of engineers, physicist, and mathematicians who let protons clash with other protons, thereby studying the scientific relations of time and space. The sterile underground setting of pipes and luminous aisles, cable snakes, plywood, and graphs is filmed with such cinematic beauty that these breath-taking aesthetics seem to be the only possible and most unconventional response to a scientist’s mind.
Mettler’s amazingly idiosyncratic stream of images leads us to Hawaii where we meet the last resident of a volcanic island that is doomed to be taken over by the slow rolling waves of hot lava. Again, the metaphysical questions that link the end of the world to its beginning are captured with such calm and focus that even watching glowing lava cool for a few consecutive minutes opens up a daring experience for the audience. No answers given, but perspectives widened. No forced narrative thread cripples Mettler’s visionary explorations, no voice of God authorises his untamed jumps amongst places, images, and ideas.
Another remarkable feature of The End of Time is its use of sound. The often hypnotic, sometimes esoteric, and always captivating score is accompanied by acoustic collages of opinions, remarks, and statements of people we rarely see. This has the effect that the fractured yet floating vibe of the film never slips into the uncomforting pits of informational didactics. Instead, we are invited to join a visual contrarian on his loosely-bound ride into the existential.
We travel from Switzerland to the Pacific Ocean, to India and the North Americas. We watch Hindis perform death rituals and squatters take over dilapidated houses. We go inside an astronomical observatory and see Peter Mettler’s mother answer his question about time in broken English. Sometimes the images slow down, sometimes they rewind, and at other times they are transferred into the surreal.
The End of Time can be best described as a meditative trip for an audience that is as open-minded as its director. A young woman in her garden behind an abandoned house in Detroit describes the cinematic experience of the film best when she explains what time is for her: “It’s to be present and see what’s around you – not worry about time but be in time.”
The End of Time, Canada/ Switzerland, 110 min.
director, cinematographer, editor, sound: Peter Mettler, languages: English, distributor: Real Fiction
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