Werner Herzog: Into the Abyss

The Intrepid Director Talks About His New Film, Cave of Forgotten Dreams

In Cave of Forgotten Dreams, maverick filmmaker Werner Herzog takes the viewer on a journey 32,000 years back in time. The 3D film, shot in 2010, documents Herzog’s unprecedented access to the Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc cave in the south of France. The stunning, perfectly preserved underworld discovered 15 years ago by speleologist Jean-Marie Chauvet contains the earliest known cave drawings, which radically challenge our notion of prehistoric man, suggesting he was more artistically advanced than we previously imagined. The film is the third in Herzog’s documentary trilogy, comprising the award-winning Grizzly Man and Encounters at the End of the World, and the latest in a career marked by experimental masterpieces such as Fitzcarraldo and Bad Lieutenant. We spoke with the California-based director about the mysteries surrounding the dawn of civilization. 

How did you arrive at the film’s title?
Cave of Forgotten Dreams had something quite evocative about it––poetry about visions and fleeting dreams that have passed tens of thousands of years ago. We are looking into the abyss of time and the abyss of the human soul.

What's amazes you the most about of the caves?
When you see an accomplished painting of a lion stalking something, and through radio carbon dating you find it was originally left incomplete, but then completed by someone else 5,000 years later… that’s just mind-boggling.

What do you think the drawings were used for?
We simply do not know. I [agree] with the younger generation of archaeologists, who point out: “Yes, this is what we can describe, and this is how far we can date it, but we should be cautious in saying this is religious or shamanistic.” The [paintings] could just be figures for target shooting.

Can you tell us about your next project?
I’m making a film about death row: when you look into the crimes, and you look into capital punishment and the family of the criminals, again, it’s another abyss.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams will open in US theaters on April 29.
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