Werner Herzog's latest documentary, Into the Inferno, heads just where its title suggests: into the red-hot magma-filled craters of some of the world's most active and astonishing volcanoes—taking the filmmaker on one of the most extreme tours of his long career. From North Korea to Ethiopia to Iceland to the Vanuatu Archipelago, humans have created narratives to make sense of volcanoes; as stated by Herzog, “volcanoes could not care less what we are doing up here.” Into the Inferno teams Herzog with esteemed volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer to offer not only an in-depth exploration of volcanoes across the globe but also an examination of the belief systems that human beings have created around the fiery phenomena.
Herzog and Oppenheimer first met ten years ago on the slopes of the Mount Erebus volcano in Antarctica during the filming of Encounters at the End of the World. Their newest film never stops moving, never stops seeking. We see Oppenheimer in Indonesia at Lake Toba, which 74,000 years ago was the site of one of the most massive eruptions known to man. Oppenheimer and Herzog travel to Mount Sinabung, where they narrowly escape a deadly eruption, and then visit Mount Merapi on Java, one of Indonesia’s most sacred volcanoes. They travel to the hottest desert on earth in Ethiopia, to Iceland, and perhaps most amazingly to the center of North Korea. Throughout, they investigate the wildly imaginative and wildly diverse stories that people have told about the presence and meaning of volcanoes. There is Mount Paektu in North Korea, for example, venerated by the current regime as a birthplace of the Korean nation and the revolution. There is the Codex Regius, Iceland's most precious possession, an ancient text that tells of a tenth-century volcanic eruption. Into the Inferno is vintage Herzog, offering extraordinary locales, outré characters, improbable stories and, through it all, a chance to go deep inside a mesmerizing subject and emerge with new understanding.