MIFF Review: The Wild Blue Yonder (Germany et alia)

Werner Herzog films have always been fascinated by other men’s utopian fantasies, while maintaining the filmmaker’s own distinctly sceptical perspective. In both Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo Herzog had born-to-act-madmen Klaus Kinski playing Europeans with utopian dreams for South America. In Grizzly Man he had the real and fatally flawed fantasies of Timothy Treadwell, who made the Crocodile Hunter look like Gregory Peck. Herzog himself is a constant traveller and a restlessly unromantic soul. The Wild Blue Yonder is a fabulous concoction, part documentary, part science fiction, part comedy, part fantasia, part meditation, all absurd. Our narrator is an alien from Andromeda, played with blatant glee by Brad Dourif. Our characters are those speechless, weightless ballerinas of space, NASA astronauts. And, providing potentially intelligent interjections, some gloriously nerdy scientists. Mixed in with this melange are the stunning visuals of arctic, under-ice diving and the haunting sound of a traditional Sardinian choir.

At the heart of the film, are the fantasies of one of the NASA scientists, who imagines out aloud the possibilities and exigencies of intergalactic travel and the future of humanity. His envisioned future is juxtaposed with the domesticated failures of Dourif’s alien character and is further undercut by moments of subtle and hilarious bathos, which are better left unspoiled. Nevertheless, Herzog is not entirely unsympathetic. His films are never made to bludgeon the fantasy, but simply to hold it up, examine it, even wonder at it but never give in to it. And so, the film gives us a sense of the beauty, the otherworldliness that makes outer space so attractive but brings us back to the beauty and otherworldliness present on our globe as it is. Herzog’s brilliance is that in the presentation of extreme landscapes—South America, Alaska, arctic oceans—he manages to focus our eyes on what is present rather than what is missing, whereas his protagonists, deluded by utopias, seem blind.