TORONTO—It took five years for Toronto director Peter Mettler (Petropolis: Aerial Perspectives on the Alberta Tar Sands) to tell the story of The End of Time, a 109-minute exploration of the fourth dimension that’s almost more of a meditation exercise than a movie.
One of the top 10 Canadian movies of last year, according to judges at the Toronto International Film Festival, The End of Time, which opens Friday (January 18), visits exotic and not-so-exotic locations to explore concepts of evolution and entropy.
“My favorite experience of the film was actually up in northern Ontario, on the north side of Killarney Provincial Park, where I spent two weeks just watching the transition from summer to fall and actually seeing the colours change,” Mettler told the Georgia Straight just before his movie’s debut at the 2012 TIFF. “But I went to many exciting places.”
One of the more exciting places for Mettler was where he chronicled the underwater birth of the next Hawaiian island, Loihi, which is due to arrive in about 50,000 years and is expected to get its first Holiday Inn the day after that. “Hawaii was fantastic: to be able to walk around on this beast, creating the ground that you walk on.”
Mettler’s visit to a volcano made him understand volcano groupies who spend their lives chasing lava. “It’s intoxicating and, of course, it’s nature at its best…My introduction was in the dark. On a moonless night, we walked about three miles towards the orange glow over the surfaces, which you probably saw in the film. It was just fantastic because you’re walking across these organic forms and shapes with this flashlight—and if you’re doing it for the first time, which is what I was doing, it was like being in a total dream world—and then feeling the heat underneath, because there are places where the lava’s still flowing underneath the hardened crust of the surface. Fantastic.”
Mettler said choosing the locales was a challenge because his theme meant he could go anywhere that appealed to him. “I chose the places for their different qualities.” Hawaii was chosen to explore the concept of geological time; “the more elemental part of our lives”, as he put it. “The things that make up the construction or the earth that we walk on.”
The least exotic locale, and one of the most fascinating, was a neighbourhood in Detroit that looked less like an Old West ghost town than the remains of Pompeii—a place that hadn’t been inhabited in generations. Mettler was impressed by the city’s visible record of its own past. “So you see the industrial age and the ruins of it, basically, the decay of it. You see nature taking that over again, the organics. And you see people living in neighbourhoods that they’ve bought for very little money and are now creating an agricultural environment for themselves, a self-sufficient agricultural environment.”
He also visited the spot in Bodh Gaya where Buddha was said to have sat under a tree and experienced enlightenment. “I thought it was interesting that that enlightenment points to being in the present,” Mettler said. “At the same time, it’s this tree or pilgrimage place where people come from miles around and it’s something that happened hundreds of years ago.”
He also visited the CERN particle accelerator in Switzerland to get a sense of where it all started. “That was the first place I went, which was asking the question: ‘Where did time start? What was the beginning of time?’ and because they’re doing experiments there to re-create conditions of the Big Bang,” Mettler said.
“So that was one reason, the beginning of time, but also because it’s this great symbol or situation of the human pursuit for understanding, for deciphering what our purpose here is: who we are, what makes up the world we live in.”