Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 30, 2013

The End of Time

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 11:20 am

“The End of Time” is a scientific/philosophical/religious meditation on the mystery of time that opens appropriately enough in the bowels of the CERN particle accelerator in Switzerland as director Peter Mettler accompanies George Mikenberg on a tour of the facilities. As is so often the case when I hear a theoretical physicist, the words that come out their mouth begin to remind me of what I heard as a graduate student in philosophy some 46 years ago. As Mikenberg put it, space and time is basically the same thing!

As Mettler makes his way through the four corners of the earth interviewing various people on the mysteries of time, his mother provides the most useful definition. As someone closer to her in age than the director, I appreciated her simple statement that time is what you make of it, particularly in the sense of enjoying your time on earth. Carpe Diem—as they put it.

“The End of Time” is the final installment in a trilogy that began with “Picture of Light” in 1996 and was followed by “Gambling, Gods & LSD” in 2002. Like a number of documentary filmmakers who are pushing the envelope in a genre that is generally considered to be a “lesson” on something or another, Mettler’s goal is to force you to come to your own conclusions. With something as enigmatic as the nature of time, this is perhaps the only thing he could have done.

Much of “The End of Time” consists of footage that should speak for itself such as Buddhist religious ceremonies or scenes from outer space mixed with interviews with people who are facing the question of time in an existential sense. One of them is Jack Thompson who lives on Big Island in Hawaii and who saw his house destroyed by lava from an active volcano. Big Island is the youngest island, only a half-million years old. There’s a new island named Lo’ihi that is cropping up 20 miles away and will surface in 50,000 years but Thompson told Mettler: “it’s too much to think about.”

Sometimes late at night I fret over the future of the planet earth. Scientists predict that it will die in 1.7 billion years. What a tragedy. Based on what Christopher Hitchens once said in a debate with the awful Shmuley Boteach (the only words worth quoting from the dissolute warmonger in recent years), the chance that intelligent life exists elsewhere is nil. The existence of life on earth only demonstrates how unimportant we are since it is only through the most unlikely of accidents that evolution paved the way for the emergence of homo sapiens.

Like Big Island, Detroit—the scene of another chapter in this panoramic film—is undergoing destruction in its case the result of an economic rather than a natural disaster. Mettler follows around a couple of young white “settlers” who have bought a house on the cheap and who are growing their own food. Their sense of time is a lot different than the Black unemployed who have fled the city in record numbers. At its height, the city provided enough jobs to sustain a population of 2 million, now it is reduced to 800,000. Despite Mettler’s wise decision to avoid easy political points, there is no doubt that a large part of the motivation in making this film is to document decay, a fundamental aspect of time.

In the press notes for the film, Mettler is asked what conclusion, if any, can be drawn from the film. His answer:

When everything is said and done, when all the philosophy and physics and thinking is over, we still really only have our day-to-day experience to guide us. Our most concrete experience of time is: “We grow old, we die.” This is the basic way we know time acts upon us. I’m just a filmmaker making a film, using a time machine to ponder time. This is my reality and there is no elaborate fiction to hide behind. At some point in this journey we must acknowledge our elders. In the end, we are forced back to basics. As mothers have said to their children for countless eons: “Make the most of your life, because it will pass.”

“The End of Time” opened yesterday at Lincoln Center’s Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center. Very highly recommended.


  1. Some people might say make the most of your life because it is short and then go out and step on people and crush them because these people are insicnificant. They only came about because of a series of extremely improbable accidents. Since people are nothing more than pigs with an inadequate sense of smell there is no reason that they should not be used like pigs to enjoy life. There will be no costs for running the animal farm because there will be no judgement after death. The simple minded pigs do not respresent a threat to me because their minds suffer from delusions which makes it easy to manipulate them. If by chance things do not work out just the way that I planned well at least in the time that I had to live the way that i want to I will have lived better than the vast majority of men who lived much longer. There is no down side to being a sociopath.
    Other people might say, this is a world filled with misery. I can add to that misery and really live good while the going is good. Or I can try not to add other peoples misery and get by as best as i can. I can take advantage of the mental retards that inhabit this planet or I can try not to to harm them. In either case I will die in a short time and once that happens i will in no way shape or form be in a position to regret my decision. The upside to being a clever sociopath is very short term.
    It has been my experience that here on planet earth a huge number of people in North America and Europe chose to try to follow the path of a clever sociopath. They of course have convinced themselves that they have no choice.
    Present understaning of science makes it easy for them to believe that others have value only in so far as they can help a person achieve their goals. T H E Y are after all just accidents of a universe that has no interest in their survival or destruction. Then from the day that we humans are born, at least those of us who have been born in North America, we are programed to achieve to things for OURSELVES. To win the Olympic Gold, to buy the Economic Gold, to sell the platinum record, to wear the Silver Stars. Because science can not tell us why one goal is better than another vast numbers of people conclude that one goal is as good as another so no one has a cause to stand in their way of achieving the goals that they have set for themselves. Many people might act nice and cooperative. That is only a temporary tactic. They are often not nice and cooperative when they do not need to be..
    What it all boils down to is that I think that THE PEOPLE should be lied to. It seems to me that if we want more people who are compassionate and fewer who are sociopaths we need to rediscover a few men from our past, one Thomas Paine, who was not an athiest, and second William Jennings Bryon. The people need to be told that we have a mission here on this earth. This mission is extremely important. They need to be told that their sacrifices will not go unnoticed or unrewarded. It needs to be constantly drilled in to them from the time they are 2 until they are 92. The people need to SEE that their leaders are not using this story of a mission to sucker them so that they make the sacrifices while the leadership reaps the rewards.
    Progressive leaders have to move beyond this thinking that democracy is a sacred cow. Leaders have to rule on behalf of the people. But, to expect the people to be able to lead themselves is romantic foolishness. A civilized society is much more likely to be achieved with institutional checks and balances than it is by allowing the untrained to make the rules. I am sure that Dick Cheney would agree with me 100% on not allowing the untrained to make the rules. That does not bother me. I say that the leadership of a country should be judged much more on its results than on its methods. One thing that must be understood though is that waging war on poor countries to achieve a higher standard of living for the country that you lead can as easily fit in to the results column as it can for the methods column. Fracking for oil to maintain a country’s standard of living can also be understood as a result not just a method.

    Comment by Curt Kastens — November 30, 2013 @ 11:28 pm

  2. Very nice trailer. Probably the movie, too. My 2 cents:

    The Endless Reality of the Imperfect Now
    2 January 2012

    Comment by manuelgarciajr — December 1, 2013 @ 12:57 am

  3. I think it’s wrong to think of “time” as a separate entity onto itself. I like to think of time as an inherent part of our universe and our universe is defined by matter in motion. In order for motion to occur, there must be space and time. This way, motion, space and time are intertwined. And I think we can also add causality to make this concept complete. So, while time travel is an interesting device in fiction, it points to the unique roll the mind plays in this setup. Motion baby is where its at!

    Comment by bill — December 4, 2013 @ 7:49 pm

  4. “One of them is Jack Thompson who lives on Big Island in Hawaii and who saw his house destroyed by lava from an active volcano. Big Island is the youngest island, only a half-million years old.”

    KIlauea, which began its current eruption in 1983. Our island has dealt with economic hardship, most recently when the sugar plantations closed. I hope you consider visiting Hawaii. We’re more than Waikiki, and there’s a lot about activism and labor that would blow your mind. Ever hear of the Hilo Massacre?

    Comment by Poppa Zao — December 5, 2013 @ 6:44 am

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