Volcanoes and Herzog

Werner Herzog, the legendary German director, has always been fascinated by Nature and Death. What more intriguing for him than volcanoes, that embody both the dersupting forces that shaped the Earth, as well as the destiny that awaits all those who choose to defy them?

This gigantic, unnamed Chilean volcano is an iconic representation of the mighty forces that shape Earth. Photograph by Fabio Luca Bonali.
This gigantic, unnamed Chilean volcano is an iconic representation of the mighty forces that shape the Earth. Photograph by Fabio Luca Bonali.

Everybody interested in Volcanology should watch “Into the Inferno“, the latest documentary movie produced and directed by Herzog. It is a must-see masterpiece, that perfectly summarizes what the German director has accomplished in his 40-year long outstanding career.

The legendary filmmker has always devoted much of his effort to portraying humankind’s struggle to cope with Nature and its laws: from the surreal and epical drama of “Fitzcarraldo” to the stunning mountain sceneries of “Scream of Stone“, to the incredible footage of mighty and lethal grizzly bears in “Grizzly Man“, Herzog’s series of productions dedicated to Nature is a long and unforgettable one.

In this jaw-dropping documentary film, the director is accompanied by Clive Oppenheimer, a volcanologist and Professor from the University of Cambridge, whom Herzog met in Antarctica, while he was filming on Mt. Erebus volcano for his “Encounters at the End of the World“. Oppenheimer does the presenting here and is the docu-film’s co-creator.

The scientist and the Director travel to Iceland, Vanuatu, Indonesia, Ethopia, to take an in-depth look not only at the volcanoes, but also at the people who must co-exist with these terrifying “Beasts of Nature“, like the late volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft used to call them.

In 1976, exactly 40 years prior to this new effort, Herzog made a film centred on “La Grande Soufrière“, an active volcano in the Caribbean, which was awakening and threatening the lives of the people from the Island of Guadeloupe.

In the movie, Herzog talks about the great, 8-month long Laki eruption of 1783 in Iceland, when a 25-km-long eruptive fissure outpoured 12 cubic kilometers of basaltic lava, emitting such a huge volume of volcanic gases that the Northern Hemisphere’s climate weather was changed (for the worse) for the next five years. Thousands of Icelanders died due to the famine that struck the Island during the eruption.

A breat-taking look at the great eruptive fissure at Laki, Iceland

The lesson that Herzog gives us is one that we should never forget: We must never cease to try looking into Nature’s secrets, but we have to respect its laws, ad do whatever is in our power to preserve them, so that they may go on for as long as Earth will exist.

Federico Pasquaré Mariotto (Insubria University, Varese, Italy)              Fabio Luca Bonali (Milan-Bicocca University, Milan, Italy)