La Soufriere

How did they get up there?  I am not sure how.  I still am not sure how.  In 1977, for German television, Werner Herzog and his erstwhile camera crew managed to get onto the island of Guadalope.  This trip became interesting for Herzog when he heard reports that a volcano there was about to erupt.  The island has been evacuated by the time Herzog shows up – one would surmise that law enforcement was prominently involved in getting people out of there.  It seems like how Herzog and his crew got there would be compelling – a film in its own right.  However, leaving those questions aside, we are left with La Soufriere, Herzog’s extraordinary doc short of what IS there.

So, what is there?  Nothing.  Well, virtually nothing – as far as human goes.  It’s eerie, as Herzog’s camera explores – the town has been completely abandoned.  At that point, we are looking at an actual ghost town – an apolcalpytic from where a George Miller-esque post-apocalyptic vision might have emerged or somesuch.  We see a traffic light, as it is dangling over an intersection where there are no cars – in broad daylight which of course adds to eerieness.  Herzog looks around and what has been left.  He checks out the caldera with the steam and sulphur are almost palpable through the film.  We see an eerie shot of what was spaghetti apparently burned to a crisp – actually it looked like noodles with black bean sauce, but never mind.  We get the sense of nature’s force – and you realize with a start how Herzog was risking he and his crew’s lives by doing this.

If he is risking his life, what about others?  Indeed when I say there is virtually nothing left in terms of people – that does not mean that EVERYBODY left.  In particular, Herzog hears of a man who stayed.  In fact, Herzog finds more than one – somebody who wants to save animals for instance.  But the  one who etches himself in the memory is a man who just feels resolved that this is his place, and is at peace with the volcano taking him.  He discusses his life, how he is satisfied and is ready to face whatever.  He has had children, they will be fine.  One wonders how he is fighting the instinct of self preservation (and if he will be so brave when the lava comes) – but the poignancy is there.  Of course, Herzog IS narrating this – so take it for what you will.  And finally, the film has its ironic ending … which Herzog notes with great bemusement.

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One thought on “La Soufriere

  1. I think you missed his whole point in going. It was the men who refused to leave that intrigued him, not the evacuation. The men all appeared to live in an intersection of age, poverty and experience with natural disaster that led them to value a sense of place over life in exile.

    While Herzog’s fascination with people living on the edge of madness is easily perceivable in this film, I’m starting to think he’s investigating the extent to which the term madness is applicable to human beings. With the exception of Grizzly Man, I’d argue the majority of the people in his films are far from mad. Madness certainly exists, but like the men and women explored in Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven, the people Herzog investigates have lived a constellation of experiences that don’t fit within the boundaries of society’s perception of normality.

    Like the deranged penguin in Antarctica, you could argue these people have simply gone off the rails sick of walking back and forth in the same easy circles day after day. But how the men on Guadaloupe discussed their fate or how the men and women in McMurdo discussed their decision to arrive at the end of the earth doesn’t fit that label. There is sense and logic and recognition of needs within themselves that overrides following the herd.

    That is my rambling for the day. 🙂

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