Cave of Forgotten Dreams
(2011) dir. Werner Herzog
In many ways this film was inevitable. Like Malick, Herzog has always been fascinated with humanities attempts at controlling the natural world. For Herzog, our humanity is defined by our separation from nature. In Aguirre, the Wrath of God
, he studied the contrast between the "advanced" western world, free of natures shackles, and the "primitive" pre-industrial world, still close to the nature. In The Dark Glow of the Mountains
, Grizzly Man
, and Encounters at the End of the World
he examined the final frontiers, places that resisted humanity, but ultimately, the last places to become "human".
A man with a broken pinky finger, who can be traced throughout the cave, announced more than 30,000 years ago that culture is what makes us human, and from the point the Paleolithic revolution became the source of everything we have today. There is a direct line between the art at Chauvet and computer on which I am writing this review. That line has been at the core of Herzog's work and thus this film was inevitable.
This is a truly great film, and one that needs to be seen by anyone interested in art, archaeology, or the origins of culture. It is a rare chance to see something that is off-limits to all but a few scientists.
When you first hear the film is 3D it sounds like a silly gimmick, but after watching it, there was no other way to make it. It has to be experienced in 3D as the cave itself was critical to the placement and experience of the art. This is the only film I have ever seen where the 3D adds, rather than detracts from the experience.
Being an archaeologist I've had the pleasure to visit some of the greatest human monuments and I never fail to feel that thing religious people call "spirituality" but to me is our shared humanity. This film has that same power.
Some reviewers have commented on Herzog's philosophical musings, and his epilogue, but for me these things were quintessential Herzog and only added to the film. Sure it's not a strongly academic film, but it was not trying to be one.
Herzog simply askes us to live in an amazing space for an hour and contemplate the distance, yet connection, we can feel through 32,000 years.