Peter Mettler returns to feature-length documentary filmmaking with a globe-trotting essay on time.
Peter Mettler (Canada/Switzerland, Masters)
The End of Time, Peter Mettler’s lyrical meditation on all things temporal, is above all a beautiful palimpsest, a sweeping essay on big ideas that’s layered by images of environments as diverse as a byzantine underground structure where physicists work on a particle accelerator and a Ford plant turned movie theatre, reduced at last to a vacant parking lot. Mettler’s geographically expansive, playful, and striking documentary riffs on the subject don’t necessarily benefit from much explanation, but those seeking a key to the experience would do well to heed the advice of one scientist, who says only that “Time means we are.”
True to the wondrous nature of that statement, Mettler approaches time as might an alien who’s come to Earth for the first time and found himself wondering about the concept of pocket watches. He doesn’t take much for granted, roaming from the central idea to related subjects, like the human desire to make certain intangible elements of life measurable, to the unsustainably rapid progression of modern industrial culture, versus the stable and longer-lasting cycles inherent to nature. That might make the film seem like an environmentalist lecture along the lines of Koyaanisqatsi, but Mettler’s approach is inquisitive rather than hectoring, even if the deliberate pacing of his montages suggests he’s on the side of nature. Visually, there’s a lot to savour here, especially in a section that follows the hypnotically slow drip of lava from an active volcano site, but what impresses the most is its genuine curiosity about our relationship to what has come before and what is to follow.