Werner Herzog’s Documentary is a Slow Burn

Photo courtesy of Nicolas Genin, Wikipedia

Werner Herzog returns to the realm of documentary filmmaking with his latest movie, “Into the Inferno,” which is also his first Netflix exclusive. In the film, the acclaimed filmmaker Herzog grapples with the natural anomaly of volcanoes, delving into what they are, how they function and the relationship that humans have with them, both physically and mentally.

But like all the subject matter of all of Herzog’s documentaries, there is a lot more to the film than its ostensible subject: much lies beneath the surface of the film. Herzog uses the volcano as a tunnel into the human psyche, in order to explore different cultures, attitudes and ways of life that are connected to volcanoes. As always, Herzog never ceases to find the extraordinary in the seemingly mundane.

The star of the show is Herzog himself, who narrates the documentary. His voice, with its ever-so-soft and smooth German accent, injects both intrigue and passion into every scene, and never sounds disinterested or bored. Herzog never takes the seemingly ordinary at face value, and strives to see the extraordinary. His inquisitive nature is quite contagious.

“Into the Inferno” contains close-up, raw footage of volcanoes at work. Herzog and his team clearly took big risks in order to get the best possible footage, and the results pay off: the sheer power and enormity of volcanic behavior is beautifully captured in the documentary, and it is a marvel to behold. In typical Herzog fashion, the director utilizes opera and classical music to compliment many of his most breath-taking scenes, in a style similar to his “Close Encounters at the End of the World.”

Herzog is more concerned with the human element of his subject matter, rather than the volcanoes themselves. “Into the Inferno” includes encounters with scientists, geologists and other experts who have devoted their lives to the study and understanding of volcanoes. The relationship between indigenous, local populations and a neighboring volcano makes for some of the film’s best moments; the spiritual and godlike auras that people attach to volcanoes will leave viewers stunned.

Like all Herzog documentaries, the pacing will not be for everyone. Herzog takes his time with “Into the Inferno,” and the slow pace will turn many people off. But patient viewers will find “Into the Inferno” to be a beautiful piece of work showcasing all of the spectacular and wonderful capabilities of a volcano.