This clip from the German filmmaker and screenwriter’s 2007 documentary Encounters at the End of the World is worth revisiting now, 10 years later. The year ahead is a blank slate of opportunity and harsh realities, much like the Antarctic that Herzog visits.
What could be more representative of that than a penguin carving his own path into oblivion?
In talking with a penguin expert, Herzog asks, “Is there such thing as insanity in penguins?” Not that they believe they are Napoleon Bonaparte or Lenin — but can one lose its mind when it gets sick of its colony? The expert admits he’s never seen a penguin go crazy, but they do get disoriented, ending up in places they shouldn’t be.
Herzog’s documentary team captures members of a colony journeying to the edge of the ice for food. Most go to the open ocean to eat. Some return to the colony. But one stand still, seemingly conflicted by the choice.
Eventually, this confused little penguin makes a bold choice. He heads straight for the mountains, 70 kilometers away. Even if he was walking toward the mountains as his goal, that’s very far for a penguin to waddle-travel. The interior of the continent is a good 5,000 kilometers ahead. “Certain death,” Herzog calls it.
Has this penguin gone insane, driven to madness by the routine of his life in the colony? Or is he ambitious, searching for something more out of life? Whether you read his journey as a death wish or an admirable attempt at greatness might say more about the viewer than the penguin.
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