Cave of Forgotten Dreams, pt. 8
Alas, it gets worse. The narrator rambles on in the same demagogic vein about the “mutant albino” crocodiles, ending with a close-up shot of one of the small white reptiles staring bemusedly back at us from where it floats in the water, behind glass. Herzog continues with his inflammatory nonsense, wondering aloud: “When” the albinos are in Chauvet (he offers no explanation of how that will occur, of course, or how cold-blooded reptiles will survive a normal French winter), what will they think of the paintings?
I am so aghast at this nonsense appended to a movie supposedly about something so beautiful and real that, upon the second viewing of the movie, I am careful to copy down this gobbledygook as precisely as I can — because it’s so breathtakingly moronic that no one will believe me, I’m sure, and I want to have my facts straight. Herzog babbles pointlessly on with faux platitudes: “Nothing is real; nothing is certain. Is this an imaginary mirror? Are we nothing but albino crocodiles looking into the abyss of time when we look at the paintings?”
The film closes with a sloppy “negative” hand print done in red, where the artist lays her hand on the wall, then sprays red paint around it to leave a clear silhouette. It looks much like some of the ones in Chauvet, although as I stare bemusedly at it — while the credits roll and we suffer through yet more droning violincello — I find myself wondering if this is as poorly rendered as it is due to being painted just for the movie.
Later I look up the supposedly terrible, growing, radioactive spawning ground of the allegedly mutant albino crocodiles, wondering if this too was just so much fantasy in Herzog’s head. I’m almost surprised to discover it does exist, although I’m unsurprised to discover it isn’t anything like how the movie portrays it: La Ferme aix Crocodiles was originally conceived as a nice little tourist draw by the pragmatic French, but now it is also doing good conservation work. My suggestion: if you go to Cave of Forgotten Dreams, take a headset with your favorite music on it so you don’t have to listen to unmitigated nonsense during the incredibly beautiful sequences within the caves — and definitely get up and leave the theatre the moment the word “Postscript” comes up on the screen.
Thinking this over later, I find myself truly amazed that a man with such an impressive artistic reputation can receive the unprecedented and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to film so magnificent a part of our shared human heritage… and end up with quite so staggeringly banal a movie. It could have been so much more! Hopefully someday in the future someone with a bit more of a grasp on what spirituality and prehistoric art means will be allowed to enter the caves — and then we’ll actually learn something new and beautiful about ourselves.