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Into the Inferno

Year: 2016
Production Co: Matt of Fact Media
Director: Werner Herzog
Writer: Werner Herzog
Cast: Werner Herzog

It was during the press tour for Dunkirk that Chris Nolan talked about finally understanding the meaning of Werner Herzog's concept of ecstatic truth. It's all very hoity toity and black turtleneck-wearing, but as close as I can make out it means it's okay to make stuff up, recreate stuff or even stage stuff in a documentary as long as it gets the feeling and experience the director wants the audience to have across and accurately represents the subject or premise.

Nolan was talking about it in relation to Dunkirk being his first true story, and how he considered creative liberties he took with true events to be okay as long as they combined to represent the true experience of the danger and desperation of the evacuation.

I thought of it while watching Into the Inferno because I wondered how much footage Herzog had set up or directed as if it was fiction rather than just went to the far reaches of the world and found. Judging by the poster and marketing you might think it's going to be his rumination on the awesome power of nature, of staring into the abyss.

The plot summary on the Internet Movie Database even says (seemingly more of an expectation than anything) 'An exploration of active volcanoes around the world'. But that doesn't begin to cover Into The Inferno – by Herzog's own admission in the film, the study, history and proximity of volcanoes are only his way to meet and talk to/about people.

One of them is his co-creator, vulcanologist Clive Oppenheimer, who talks about his own background and love affair with the science. The two of them travel all over the world from the South Pacific to Antarctica, Iceland, North Korea, Indonesia and back again to hear and watch the stories and myths people make up about volcanoes as well as those who study them.

It's a bit unclear what Herzog wants to do or say with the film. Even though he undoubtedly has some legitimate artistic intent it seems to be just a pet project just to amuse himself. Or he might just be having a lark and spending some priduction company's money on an extended holiday, this is the kind of thing acclaimed directors do instead of jet ski in Belize.

If you like you can treat it as just an extended music video with some amazing lava and eruption footage because he and his team have captured some great stuff, but other than that it just seems to be Herzog travelling the world inspired by an aspect of nature that fascinates all of us and seeing what he finds there. How much of it is true, unadulterated or unfiltered by the filmmaking process? According to the theory of ecstatic truth, it doesn't matter, as long as you feel the wonder he intends.

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