‘The End of Time’: The Cosmos of Peter Mettler

Sandra Bertrand


Watching a Peter Mettler film is no ordinary experience.  You may as well be strapping yourself in place for a ride to through the Milky Way, plunging into the core of a live volcano or simply winessing the inexorable march of an ant colony with their grasshopper prey.


The End of Time, the latest in a trilogy by this Canadian filmmaker, is part of a mid-career retrospective, presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center.  The trilogy began with Picture of Light (1996), followed by Gambling, Gods & LSD (2002).  To call this a documentary would be misleading.  In journalist Brian Johnson’s of Macleans words, “Cosmomentary would be a more appropriate name for the genre Mettler is pioneering.”  In his latest work he emerges—part mystic, part modern science guru, part poetic visionary—to turn the subject of time and our perception of it, on its head.


To get beyond the limits of time, we are taken into the privileged world of the CERN particle accelerator in Switzerland, where Nobel Prize Laureates Francois Englert and Peter Higg seek to probe the infinitesimal pockets in the space/time continuum. The labyrinth of deserted pristine hallways is unnerving.  We almost expect to hear the soothing, disembodied voice of Hal, Kubrick’s duplicitous spaceship computer in his film 2001.  Mettler’s own narration seems intent on numbing our senses, to make us surrender to his dazzling graphic play of light and sound. 


Do we suspend our disbelief?  A loose commentary leaves us to decide, a wash of words in between drawn-out pauses obviously meant to reach us on a deeper subliminal level.  “We perceive time in one direction, not the other.” “In many languages, time and weather are the same word.” “Do other species have a sense of time?



Mettler’s skills as a live audio/visual mixing performer come into full play here, and Peter Braker’s sound design is first-rate.  Falling snow on cedar trees, a tinkling of chimes, an unnamed tribe sitting around a campfire—are all intrinsically placed to put us under the filmmaker’s spell.


Extended sequences lull us into submission—lava flows in Hawaii stun the eye.  The inexorable movement of nature over time needs little or no explanation.  In Detroit the socially-conscious Mettler presents the ever-repeating cycle of struggle, decay, and renewal.  The camera pans a once-gorgeous shell of a building that serves as a parking lot, before that a movie theatre, and before that the workshop where Henry Ford built his legendary Model T Ford.  The car becomes a metaphor for our new perception of time versus distance. Another major sequence features Hindus performing an elaborate funeral rite near the Bodhi tree associated with Buddha’s enlightenment. 


Mettler believes “time is not a thing, but an idea.  In time, it’ll die out in the mind.”  Since time is still a part of our particular universe, it might be worth taking the time to become familiar with this unique artist.


Author Bio:

Sandra Bertrand is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.

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