Herzog’s most recent film, “The Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” documents the Chauvet Cave drawings, dating back almost 40,000 years, making them the oldest existing in the world today.
I am drawn to Herzog because he takes the concept of the travel documentary one step further. Not only are we exposed to the exotic, the mystical, the unexplainable, but in addition, Herzog profiles the individuals that have dedicated their lives to answering life’s most challenging scientific questions. It’s these people, these unique characters, that set the foundation for such a powerful story. This is not just a film that takes us on a tour of the cave, but rather, another Herzogian enigma that asks us to look inward into the mirror of our souls and utilize new perspectives. In this case, we are given a new perception of time. Herzog explains that some of the drawings are overlapped, meaning that they were made at different time periods, some encompassing a gap of over 5,000 years. This amount of time is unfathomable to modern man, Herzog explains, because he is “locked in history.” In primitive times, man had no true concept of time, no recorded accounts of past events that allowed him to perceive the true pace of evolution.
Although this notion on the nature of time touched me deeply, I was moved more so by the film’s exploration of anamorphosis and animal worship. The archeologists in the film paint the paleolithic world as inhabited by immense amounts of animals, and I found this to be extremely endearing. Today we find ourselves in such dire environmental circumstances. All around us, entire eco-systems are vanishing before our very eyes. Rainforests continue to burn. Fishing villages have become barren desert outposts. Entire coral reefs, once bursting with color, have turned sterile and gray.
But 40,000 years ago, animals ruled the world. They roamed free in herds and packs larger than we can imagine. Perhaps the coolest image in the film is when Herzog shows us the “cave bear altar,” a huge bear skull placed atop a stone mound at the entrance of the Chauvet cave. Animals were honored as Gods, and their sanctity tells us that primitive man clearly understood the connectedness between all living things.
Herzog tells us that inside one of the caverns, there is a fossilized footprint of a small boy next to that of a wolf, begging the question, who was hunting who?
Perhaps the two walked together, side by side.