Peter Mettler's cinematic meditation on the nature of time, The End of Time, begins with a look at the extremely small (the CERN Large Hadron Collider smashing protons at high speeds) and ends with a look at the extremely large (the telescopes in Chile's Atacama Desert penetrating the universe and the deepest parts of time). In between, we see many things, some of which are amazing, while others are a little too familiar.
On the amazing side of things is the sequence centered on an active volcano in Hawaii. We see its hellish smoke, its otherworldly slopes, its red lava rising from cracks in the earth and black lava hardening on prone roads. A human lives out here and watches the volcano from a distance that does not seem at all safe. His porch has a view of the history and the future of the world: its birth, its death, its rebirth. In one scene, huge trees are burned like matchsticks; in another scene, new and strange green plants are making an impressive comeback. The lone human doesn't have anything profound to say about all of this; he just watches the volcano and waits, it seems, for his own death.
On the familiar side of the documentary is the segment on the capital of urban decay, Detroit. There is nothing new here, nothing that you can't also find in numerous other documentaries on this city. We see the deserted buildings, the grand theaters of the past that now function as cavernous parking lots, and the sidewalks that are cracked and lined by tall wild grass. Everywhere you look, homes are crumbling, nature is returning, and humans are roaming the ruins like survivors of the apocalypse. This section also has (again, unsurprisingly) an interview with techno producer Richard Hawtin. We see that his production space/loft has a view of downtown Detroit, and we later hear his techno beats and his thoughts on the nature of time. Like much in this film, Hawtin provides no clear ideas but offers suggestions, fragments, hints. Altogether, the film is good because it has so many stunning images (the director is, after all, a cinematographer). I'll never forget the slow tumble and roll of those dark and huge boulders on the slope of that fiery volcano.
Unfortunately, another new and meditative documentary, Visitors, has few memorable images. Directed by Godfrey Reggio, the man who achieved fame in 1982 with the didactic, and in my opinion overrated, documentary Koyaanisqatsi ("Life Out of Balance"), Visitors opens with the face of a very black and huge gorilla. It is a silverback. Its dark eyes are staring at us. We have no idea what the thing is thinking or how the director got it to be still for so long. After some time passes, we see a human face, and another, and another. Then we are shown humans of all colors walking down a city street, then birds in the sky, then a few clouds in the sky, then an abandoned building or theme park, and then more and more human faces, many of which are of young and pretty women. The film ends (trust me, this needs no spoiler alert) around the face of that clueless gorilla. It is staring at us again, and we are staring at it, wondering: What has this got to do with anything? Outside of Philip Glass's score—particularly the beautiful penultimate movement—there is little or nothing in Visitors worth meditating on.