Time is just a perception. Or so I kept reassuring myself as I sat down to watch The End of Time and experienced the slowest hour and 45 minutes of my life. The End of Time is a ponderous documentary that attempts to analyze our ideas of time, looking at its many forms: quantum, geological, biological etc. What is time? Does it exist at all? This film boldly takes on this complex subject, only to fumble the handling of it and not end up saying much at all.
Filmmaker Peter Mettler takes his audience around the world, showing nature, man made constructs and people all dealing with time in different ways. We start in Switzerland where scientists are working with particle accelerators, move down to an active volcano and a man who lives perilously close to fields of lava. We see decaying urban landscapes, dying towns and a funeral in India. Each location is meant to offer something new on the subject. The film also makes use of stock footage, an ambient soundtrack, and brief interviews with unidentified sources to complete the experience.
There are a few things this film does right. Although I didn’t necessarily enjoy it, The End of Time certainly made me aware of every minute that passed by. It is also stuffed full of beautiful and varied imagery of nature and man-made objects. One of the most entrancing sequences of the film is when Mettler takes his camera right over active flows of lava so that we can watch the rock twist and expand, serpent like. Such an uncommon sight holds a powerful beauty. There are also a few nuggets of interesting theory, regarding how our perception of time is irrevocably linked to space. The creation of the car let us see time as distance (MPH), and factory labour allowed us to label time as money (hourly wages). Although the film doesn’t quite succeed at getting its audience to think too deeply on theories regarding time, it does present us with a visual and aural experience, at times striking and at other times painfully dull.
Part documentary, part art-house cinema, the film makes a lot of noise without saying much at all and fails to string together its many sequences into one powerful overarching idea. Everything is too out of context; too stretched out and just too art for arts sake for my taste. Mettler takes his subject too far away from any meaningful conversation regarding time. Long shots are eventually broken up with voice over narration of people whose ramblings on the significance of time are no more complex than those of a stoned Philosophy 101 undergrad. Take this gem, regarding how everyone experiences life and time differently: “We all see our own unique rainbows, we feel our own time”, a line which sounds like it originated from a particularly bad poetry competition. These ponderings are meant to be deep, but they’re painfully obvious.
If you want to see a broad topic covered with competence and done in an entertaining and fascinating way, get your hands on Agnes Varda’s The Gleaners and I. Like Mettler, Varda takes an enormous subject (gleaning) and finds people who fulfill many of its varied definitions. I was hoping that Mettler would present me with something nearly as interesting, however he squanders his rich subject matter. Despite its few redeeming qualities, the film ultimately left me disappointed in its inability to pull together its narratives and say anything new on the subject of time.