Werner Herzog’s "Into the Inferno"


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Nature’s Impermanence Calls Forth Man

What does it mean to be human in a world of impermanence, when the very earth beneath our feet is moving, shifting, always changing? How do we respond to natural disasters like volcanoes in a spiritual way? These questions and others like it are what legendary filmmaker, Werner Herzog, is asking in his new (Netflix streamed) documentary, Into the Inferno.

When two Werner Herzog films appear two weeks apart from each other on my Netflix queue, I have to turn my head. Why? Because Herzog documentaries and films alike are, well, generally less accessible than other filmmakers’ work. Now all of a sudden we have Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World, and Into the Inferno on Netflix? Hell yes! I can never get enough of his work! And let me tell you: this film was as if Herzog took a Jackson Pollack drip piece (i.e. volcano) and made it into poetry, tying us to it like a strand of molten DNA.

Herzog is a profound storyteller as he doesn’t bastardize or glamourize his subject(s). He approaches his work with an honest emotion heard in his distinguished narration, emitted through an operatic poetry sewn throughout this film. For me, this created feelings of something profound, something religious even. His intent is to observe, not disturb, which makes his stories have a sense of purity in their rawness.

What I think I appreciate most about this film is the correlation between nature and man. Herzog’s footage of cascading molten lava mirrors our cultural impermanence, presenting us, the viewer, with a well-rounded approach to the research. For example, with volcanologist colleague Clive Oppenheimer, Herzog investigates areas of the world underrepresented, like North Korea, the Icelandic plains, and small tribes in the Pacific Southeast.

Never have I been so mesmerized to the horror that is a volcano. A break in the earth, spewing its very guts out...it is raw power. If we stand and live on a piece of impermanent rock, it only makes sense that we too as inhabitants of this changing place continue to change as well. And we do: our belief systems, our style, our attitude, our dreams. Seeing a rumbling, gushing, roaring volcanic river, with people standing beside it, studying it, is breathtaking; it’s also horrifying seeing someone stare their ‘maker’ and death in the face like that, all overlaid with tear-jerking opera in the background. That’s Into the Inferno, a genuine presentation of our spiritual ancestry and the volcanic activity we live upon.