It’s one thing to travel; it’s another thing to travel without a specific destination in mind. It’s still another thing to travel to where few—if any—have gone before.
Expedition to the End of the World, from Danish writer-director Daniel Dencik chronicles such a journey, one that has an immediate appeal to Arctic travellers. The scenery, shot on the ice-choked Greenlandic coast, is achingly beautiful. But this film subverts the ‘nature film’ genre, creating not so much a portrait of a journey, or of a place, but of a late Western state of mind.
The premise is simple: a multi-national group of artists and scientists sets sail aboard an old wooden schooner for fjords along the northeast coast of Greenland, newly accessible due to climate change. That should be a straightforward story to tell. But there’s a catch: while exploration is the obvious purpose, the real goal of the expedition is shrouded in mystery.
How many are aboard? We never get a clear picture. Where are they actually going? Somewhere up the coast of Greenland. How long are they at sea? We don’t know. How did they come together? Again, we don’t know. Most importantly, what are their motivations?
This last question is the key to the film’s hidden heart. Through a series of vignettes featuring individual artists, scientists, and ship’s crew, we learn that each traveller is really on his or her own, unique journey.
Amid genuine moments of discovery—potential new species of tiny sea creatures; evidence of human habitation revealed by retreating ice—there are quiet scenes beneath pristine mountain ranges, surrounded by looming ice, cruising through limpid waters. And silly moments, too: a scientist trying to wrestle a salmon bare-handed; the launching of a flying Zodiac, quotes from Futurama. The film veers from unnerving, to hilarious, to breathtaking, in bathetic lurches, just as the soundtrack jumps from Mozart to Metallica.
Ship of destiny, or ship of fools? This truly is an expedition ‘to the end of the world’—not just to the polar region, but to the edge of our own knowledge about the world, and, with the looming threat of climate change, perhaps of the world itself.
The symbol is too compelling to ignore: what are we all but passengers aboard a single ship, sailing for parts unknown, with no real goal in mind…and no clue what happens next?
Yet the journey, for all its unsettling moments, is a sublime one; the characters are so compelling, the landscape so beautiful, and the story so compellingly told, that we must conclude that it has been worthwhile.
And that perhaps, as with Expedition to the End of the Earth, it will all come out well somehow in the end.
Visit the coast of Greenland on these amazing Adventure Canada voyages:
Heart of the Arctic 2015
Arctic Explorer 2015
Into the Northwest Passage 2015
Out of the Northwest Passage 2015
Greenland & Wild Labrador 2016
Heart of the Arctic 2016
Arctic Safari 2016
Arctic Explorer 2016
Into the Northwest Passage 2016
Out of the Northwest Passage 2016