A documentary filled with anthropological speculations about the character of our imagination
This is Werner Herzog’s most political film. After private men searching for caves discovered in a cave in France very old paintings of animals, after they presumably made the discovery public, the French state declared the cave a secret, closed it to the public, & turned it into a scientific research where a few select experts would conduct their investigations. In this new hiddenness, Mr. Werner Herzog was invited with super-scientific 3d cameras, to discover to the public the discovery.
The choice is remarkable. Man’s evil & the inhuman origin of mankind are the most important themes of Mr. Herzog’s filmography. He is the most serious poet to criticize civilization, or America. Let us start from startling facts. The alternative to America for France, & therefore for Europe, is France, & the core of France is the conflict between its rationalist politics & its Catholic faith. The former is simply dismissed as lacking depth. The latter, concentrated or reduced to its most penetrating expression, its holy music, is used continuously by Mr. Herzog in the movie. Does he want to sanctify–to cleanse–the cave? Or to debase the Church?
Mr. Herzog lets us know that although the cave at Chauvet was used by human beings in order to paint animals, it was only inhabited by bears, who made their own marks–claw scratches on the walls, sometimes in the same place where humans made their drawings, whether before or after–& who left behind copious amounts of bones, including skulls. But humans never dwelt there. Now, the paintings include both herbivores, or prey, & carnivores, or predators. There are no omnivores–like men or bears.
Mr. Herzog points silently to the crisis of understanding facing us by showing us the technological tricks of the age & especially by showing us France’s experts. One of them has transformed the cave, by technology, into an abstract space of hundreds of millions of points on a computer screen. You may judge for yourself whether such a man knows he is being treated ironically; or whether he is able to experience the terror of the origins.
Another talks about going into the caves & coming out dreaming about the animals there & about fearing to return until he had regained his faculties. That man is Mr. Herzog’s silent portrayal of his main audience. It seems very unlikely that he can look at that man without contempt. Compare his portrayal with the sympathy showed to all the silly madmen who yap the mouth about spirituality–whom Americans would dismiss as hippies.
All these humans serve one purpose, to establish the obstacles faced by a man who wants to go into the darkness. They are ultimately replaced didactically by another scientific monster, albino crocodiles.
A disturbing reflection that might occasion students of our intellectual heritage to take Plato & Heidegger more seriously.