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Werner Herzog took me to a guided tour into the abyss

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Into the Abyss

I’ve turned into a documentary junkie. You might have noticed.

My top list of movies this year will be generously sprinkled with documentaries and I wouldn’t be surprised if there will be a couple of them in the top ten.

It’s a combination of things about them that attracts me:

  • The insight that you know that this thing actually happened and that the people in it exist for real. They’re not the fruit of someone’s imagination, not a mask that you can take off once the shooting is over. It’s a part of our reality, as dark, as beautiful and as weird as it gets.
  • The freshness. In the world of documentaries there are no sequels, remakes or reboots. Every documentary I’ve seen has had its own unique voice with a new, different approach to its chosen topic.
  • The emotional response. Yes, you read me right: emotional. While you could imagine a fact based film should be more about reason than about emotion, it’s actually the opposite. All the documentaries I’ve seen this year have made me laugh, cry, cringe or hiss angrily in a way that very few feature films can.

Into the Abyss is all of this and the name of the film is very appropriate considering the nature of the places that Werner Herzog brings us to.

Its epicenter is a prisoner waiting to be executed for the cruel, meaningless murderers he and another man committed ten years ago in order to get hold of a car they wanted.

Herzog interviews this convict shortly before he’s about to die from an injection. He also meets a number of other people concerned with this case in different ways – a police officer, relatives of the victims, his companion who “only” was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in jail, the companion’s father and girlfriend and an ex-employee who assisted in 100 executions until he from one day to another suddenly realized that he had had enough and actually was against the death penalty.

At an early stage in the film Herzog discloses that he is an opponent of the death penalty. Since I share this view, I might be biased, but I think that one of the strengths about the film is that Herzog doesn’t let his opinion dominate the film.

Curious attitude
This is not a one-sided statement in a political debate; he’s not arguing for the legislation to be changed and he’s by no means sugarcoating or coming up with excuses for the deeds. The victims get as much space as the killers – or more. Regardless of who they are, everyone is approached with the same calm and curious attitude.

Is it possible to close the abyss? Could you stop evil things from happening again, can you prevent someone from turning evil?

Herzog never attempts to come up with an answer. His mission is of a different kind – the one of an observer. He takes us to places where we usually never go, showing sides of the human condition that are unknown to most of us.

I recommend you to see this film if you get the chance, regardless if you’re a documentary junkie or not. While being immensely sad and dark, it stayed with me for days afterwards. It made me grateful about having the life I have, on the more shallow waters, far, far from the abyss.

“How are you going to live your dash?” is one of the questions that is asked, referring to the dash that is on the tombstone between the day you’re born and the day you die.

I don’t know the answer, but I can’t get it out of my head.

Into the Abyss (Werner Herzog, US 2011) My rating: 4,5/5

Written by Jessica

December 5, 2012 at 1:00 am

Posted in Into the Abyss