Keane on Encounters at the End of the World, Existentialism

Werner Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World documents daily life and existentialism at McMurdo, Antarctica’s largest base, village, and human community. The alien landscapes surrounding the settlement are like photo negatives of familiar environments — mountains look like seabed, caverns darken underwater.

The film is one-half interviews with the scientists that inhabit McMurdo, wondrously pondering their existence on the living continent that shifts under them. But the movie is equal parts moving photography, as wordless scenes of animated landscapes and surreal wildlife float by in luminous shades of deepwater blue.

I tried to think of songs about this type of alien landscape, but they’re tough to come by; even tougher was finding a song about things like these utterly weird sea stars. But in terms of cataloging the abstract blindness, the complete isolation that allows Herzog’s philosophical ruminations, Keane does an admirable job in “Bedshaped,” the closing track to their debut, Hopes and Fears:

You’ll follow me back
With the sun in your eyes
And on your own
And legs of stone

The song’s actually about an erstwhile lover of the singer who has moved on without him. But the blindness of “sun in your eyes” matches the whiteout of an Antarctic wanderer, while “bedshaped, and legs of stone” is his heavy gait, legs atrophied, as he staggers through a depthless snowstorm. In the song, the whiteout compels a doubtful ex-lover to follow her beau; in Encounters, it lets a once-scattered collection of explorers look inward.

MP3: Keane – “Bedshaped”


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