Encounters at the End of the World

Movie review by
James Rocchi, Common Sense Media
Encounters at the End of the World Movie Poster Image
South Pole documentary is gorgeous, if a bit dry.
  • G
  • 2008
  • 99 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The film calls attention to the pursuit of knowledge for knowledge's sake.

Violence & Scariness
Sexy Stuff

Minor discussion of homosexuality among penguins.


A written card includes the word "hell."


Herzog's trip is sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this beautiful documentary -- which follows filmmaker Werner Hertzog to various scientific and research stations at the South Pole -- is fairly dry stuff, particularly compared to similarly themed audience-friendly docs like March of the Penguins. At the same time, it's a celebration of scientific curiosity and the human spirit, and while young kids may be vaguely flummoxed by Herzog's narration, the movie is absolutely family-friendly and full of astonishing images and ideas.

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What's the story?

Sponsored by the National Science Foundation, filmmaker Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man, Rescue Dawn) travels to the South Pole with a skeleton crew to explore the area and meet the men and women of the scientific research stations of Antarctica. While Herzog looks at the work the scientists are doing, he's also curious about what compelled these men and women to go so far in the name of science and examines the past and present of the exploration of the South Pole.

Is it any good?

Herzog's previous explorations of the natural world and human behavior have involved big questions and big themes; Encounters at the End of the World is a little more calm and introspective. But it's still a fascinating look at the nature of the scientific exploration going on in one of the world's most desolate places. Herzog serves as his own narrator, and his dry, knowing tone is one of the film's pleasures: Describing McMurdo station, the outpost that serves as a central base for all Antarctic research, he notes how the facility includes many modern amenities, such as "a yoga class, an aerobics studio, and other abominations."

Herzog's explorations and interviews get even more fascinating once he's away from the main station. The film includes gorgeous, impressive underwater sequences shot during dives under the polar ice cap, a balloon launch designed to raise high-end physics observation equipment into the upper stratosphere, penguin-colony footage, and a tour of the rim of an active volcano. Herzog also examines what life is like for the men and women stationed at the South Pole, and their stories and ideas are compelling. Herzog may not be a traditional tour guide, but his off-center sensibility is one of the many pleasures of Encounters at the End of the World; the film's most successful moments come as the combination of a unique location and a unique point of view, both of which Encounters at the End of the World most definitely has to share with the audience.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how this documentary is different from movies like March of the Penguins and Arctic Tale. What audience do you think it was made for? Families can also discuss exploring. What motivates people to go to places like the South Pole? Does seeing a far-off place on TV or in a movie make you want to go there?

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