For such a long movie, it's nice that you can sum up the plot in a single sentence:
'It's about a camera that takes pictures that blind people can see.'
Not the best film ever made (that's surely Ozu's 'Tokyo Story'), 'Until the End of the World' is simply my favourite. This is the full 3 DVD version, lasting well over 4 hours. Only the Italian release, with about 20 minutes of deleted scenes, is longer. My favourite film, in spite of its weaknesses: I mean, hown did Burt the bounty hunter get tied up by David, and how come Sam and Claire just happened to bump into Winter and Gene in the middle of the Aussie Outback? When the only version I'd seen was the truncated 2 and a half hour one, I thought these bloopers would get cleared up in the big feller. But no, they're still there. It's just that they don't matter. They never really did.
Here is the obsessive Henry Farber (Max von Sydow), apparently exploiting Edith, his blind wife (Jeanne Moreau), as a part of his experiments with vision transference directly into the brain. But no! That's not it! The real long and short of it is that he loves her and he cannot - dare not - admit that the experiments might be too much of a strain on her. The scene when the images brought to them by their son Sam and his lover Claire, finally unfold inside Edith's mind, is unspeakably moving. She sees her daughter Elsa, and her granddaughter. The catch is that both might already be dead; there has been a freak nuclear accident and the whole world might have been wiped out. Henry and Edith just don't know; the radio in their hideaway has been knocked out.
Mr Winter from Wenders' previous 'Alice in the Cities,' is back, played as usual by Rudiger Vogler, and this is a performance that ought to have earned him a medal for services to the art of being unbelievably cool. Sam Neill as Claire's ex-boyfriend Gene is likeably inept throughout. The last half an hour of the film, when he finally proves himself a genuine and trustworthy friend, is all the more touching because of this. William Hurt, as Sam Farber, projects bitterness and self-doubt from the outset. His is perhaps the most unified and coherent performance. The scenes when he and his father fall out are upsetting on a completely different level to the assorted apocalypses that the film shows to be hanging over the world's head. We may all be about to go up in nuclear smoke, but families are still at each other's throats. While the parallelling of personal and global tragedies has been a feature of serious written SF since the Moorcock era, it is rare, if not unknown, to find it up on the screen in a science fiction movie.
Finally, a word about Solveig Dommartin, Claire Tourneur, who sets off on an obsessive search for Sam when Gene cheats on her, then becomes involved in the Farber family's scientific and personal struggles. She brings the same utter lack of irony to this role that she gave to Marion in 'Wings of Desire.' It is a performance of delightful openness and innocence. Much of the concept of the movie originated with her and she was committed enough to it that she snuck into China with a video camera to film a couple of brief scenes. For her, 'Until the End of the World' was a labour of love and it is bitterly sad that she passed away a couple of years ago. She did not live to see the film widely acknowledged as one of the most generous-hearted and lovingly made stories ever told in the medium. Such acknowledgement will come, sooner or later, because that is what 'Until the End of the World' is, and we are all in her debt for that. Thank you, Solveig.