Film: Into the Abyss [2011, usa]
Where: Los Angeles @ Arclight Hollywood
Who with: SJ
In attendance: Werner Herzog
Rating when I saw it: ***
Rating after a few days of contemplation: ****
Werner Herzog. Just his name alone shoots rapture into the heart of any self-respecting film geek. Who would have thought when SJ and I drove into Hollywood to see Into the Abyss, I would soon find myself standing next to Mr. Herzog, carrying on a conversation with him? Not me. We knew he was going to make an appearance at the screening, but didn't know if it would be a quick intro or a Q and A or what. In classic, populist Werner fashion, he gave a 30 minute, unmoderated Q and A after the movie that was better than any of the post-screening Q and A sessions we've been watching that have been getting a lot more press. I think Werner would have answered questions all night long if there wasn't another film to show.
My first thoughts about Into the Abyss were that Werner has made just an average movie, but as the hours went by and I thought more and more about the film, it got more powerful to me. There is definitely a lot of philosophical ideas being broached on the screen and the conversations between Herzog and his subjects. Into the Abyss is something that stays with you long after it ends. The film is a meditation on violence and the after effects of the senseless, unexplainable acts that occur, based around a triple homicide in texas. The murders, perpetrated by a couple of teenagers for nothing more than so they could have a car for a few days, destroys everyone connected to the violent act. The guilty party are serving life in prison or about to be executed, family members have entered a waking state of never-ending emotional turmoil. Herzog talks to a death row chaplain and correction officer as well to further delve into the topic of violence, redemption, God and the death penalty. He tries to make sense of it.
Or does he? What gives Into the Abyss its power is that Herzog can't make sense of it. No one can. This crime, heinous and despicable, is so beyond figuring out guilt or innocence that Herzog dispenses of all that and just concentrates on the numbing after-effects of violence. There's a lot of psychological damage done to survivors of such mindless violence and Herzog hones in that with his usual individual style of questions and narration [in his usual thick, Bavarian accent that is the trademark for all his documentaries] as we get to view the collection of shattered lives on display. Below the surface is where the weight of Into the Abyss lies, all the small moments of torment and suffering being vocalized by person after person. Into the Abyss is an intense, sad, powerful exploration of the horror of violence.
When the Q and A was finished, SJ and I happened to be exiting the theatre near Herzog so I just told him who I was a programmer at Circle Cinema in Tulsa, Oklahoma and how I'd love to arrange a Skype interview with him when we show Into the Abyss. He politely said he was about to head off to Venezuela and where he was staying, there would be no electricity, it would have to be after he got back from that. Fine with me. After I mentioned Oklahoma, he told me, "I love Norman, Oklahoma and my daughter has been telling me how much she loves Omaha, Nebraska." Well, I went to OU so thought that was wonderful to hear. Werner likes Norman? Well, Boomer Sooner! This post-screening conversation certainly was more positive than the downer of a documentary that I had just seen. But, that's Werner Herzog for you--part weirdly comic, part seriously intense, all original.