Expedition to the End of the World digs up our demise

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A documentary by Daniel Dencik. In English and Danish, with English subtitles. Rated PG.

The title of this surprisingly pleasure-filled film is a double-edged wordplay. The doc follows a batch of mostly Danish scientists—all male, save one—to a part of northeastern Greenland only unlocked recently, due to faster climate change than anyone anticipated. The ad hoc journey, launched with no set goals, aboard an elegant, three-masted schooner, turns into an extended meditation on the first species to engineer its own extinction. (Hint: it’s us.)

Directed by Denmark’s Daniel Dencik, who constructed this breezy, 90-minute effort with two other writers and teams of editors and cinematographers, Expedition to the End of the World focuses on a cast of eccentric characters. They’re identified only (until the final credits) as the Geologist, the Art Photographer, the Marine Biologist, and so forth. This is an engaging lot, whether discussing their main interests, foraging for unknown species, digging up Jesus-era bacteria in the permafrost, playing the banjo, or discharging weapons (sometimes by accident) while tracking a too-curious polar bear.

They also have frequently playful banter about art versus science as tools for understanding the weirdness of life—all set against some of the most spectacular scenery ever captured by cameras.

While humankind’s remaining energy is siphoned off into pointless religious wars or searching for more carbon to burn, the scientists here laugh at the notion that they have a pony in this idiotic race to the bottom. “Honestly, we don’t care,” the Geologist declares. “We’re only interested in processes.” In more wistful moods, which increase as cabin fever sets in, they admit a spiritual connection with the life forms that came before. As one fellow says of scant traces found in the thawing tundra, “We imagine that we can make them talk to us. But in the end, the dead remain silent.”

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