A few artists, a marine biologist, geochemist, geographer, zoologist, archaeology and a photographer take a sail to a part of Greenland that’s only accessible for a few weeks a year in Daniel Dencik’s beautiful Expedition to the End of the World. The film is sparse with moments of humor in empty landscapes as the crew ambitiously attempts to unpack the mysteries of evolution via the exploration of a remote corner of the earth. At times the dynamic between the artists and the scientists becomes playfully tense as their similarities and differences emerge as the topic of conversation. Scientists admire that artists are tasked with creating questions while scientists propose and search for answers. The declines are very different and until the closing credits they remain simply credited on screen by their role in the expedition. Despite colorful moments, this is not a character study.
The role of the filmmaker is largely absent as well — unseen and out of frame, Dencik and five cinematographers offer a mix of masterful compositions and carefully rendered wide-angle GoPro-style footage. The result is subtle, calm and appropriate, avoiding the ethnographic exploration of a different kind of expedition such as in Lucien Castaing-Taylor’s Leviathan. Expedition to the End of the World watches the process of doing marine biology, geography and archaeology — as well as art — while never focusing on one discipline for a long time. The experience is similar to early IMAX nature documentaries without the lifeline of a constant celebrity narrator making sense of what plays out before our eyes; the uncertainty of Dencik’s frames (punctuated at times with the music of Metallica) seem to question the value of the work that is being done. The film thankfully does offer up some answers in its final chapters, however the experience of watching Expedition to the End of the World is exhilarating.
Ambitious and not without surprises, the fieldwork present can be rather daunting and Dencik presents this using humor as the crew runs into a the remains of a bear and pose for a picture that would make Sarah Palin proud. Later, an actual conflict presents itself in a third act surprise. In terms of its construction, Expedition to the End of the World functions as a document of the experience — Dencik is making art at the end of the world. Facing conflicts, including climate change, this particular region may continue to be in flux. The reassuring note that comes at the end of the journey isn’t quite its thesis and, like the film, offers up no easy answers in spite of its search.
Expedition to the End of the World is now in limited release.