Cave Man: Werner Herzog Can't Get Out of His Own Way in Forgotten Dreams

One of the few justifiable recent excursions into 3-D, Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams documents a secret wonder of the world, the Chauvet cave—a subterranean gallery of 300 animal images discovered in 1994 in the South of France.

Twice as old as the paintings at Lascaux, yet amazingly fresh and frankly mind-blowing in their depiction of lions, mammoths, and rhinos, the Chauvet images were made 30,000 years ago, at the dawn of human time. Herzog wangled entrance to this ultra-exclusive treasure, off-limits to all but a handful of scientists, for which we may be grateful; his movie, however, is anything but humble. On one hand, the artist identifies with his Cro-Magnon peers, suggesting their paintings, some depicting animals with eight legs, are “proto-cinema”; on the other, he looks for contemporary kindred spirits, populating the movie with as many eccentrics as he can excavate—a local parfumeur with plans for an aromarama Chauvet theme park, a guy who toots “The Star-Spangled Banner” on a Paleolithic flute. Herzog also discovers a dreadful future to match the unknowable past: a nearby nuclear facility that has generated a tropical biosphere populated by mutant albino crocodiles.


Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Directed by Werner Herzog
Sundance Selects
Opens April 29, IFC Center (3-D) and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas (2-D)

Herzog’s 3-D is often masterful in representing the way in which the paintings’ shaped surfaces enhance perspective, or in revealing how deep space might be defined by light. (For better or worse, the movie does for Chauvet what Baudrillard complained an on-site replica did for Lascaux—render the real thing false.) Would that the director maintained the cave’s silence, deep enough to hear your heartbeat. Instead, there’s a compulsion to fill the void with philosophical vapors (“Is this the origin of the soul?”) and Ernst Reijseger’s obtrusive New Age choral music. The escalating audio desecration is capped by the filmmaker’s ultimate head-scratcher. Perhaps the mutant crocs will swim to Chauvet: “Looking at the paintings—what will they make of them?”

My Voice Nation Help

Good review ! I cannot watch anything made by Herzog, but I thought, a documentary about a cave, well, maybe this one is different. It is not. It is the same drawn out, boring and depressing crap as everything else he has ever made. He should have at least hired a professional narrator, because his voice is so lifeless that you rather watch the entire thing with the volume off. What do we have here ? Paintings of animals in a cave discovered and fully explored 17 years. That means, we are not discovering anything here. There is hardly any material to fill 90 minutes, unless, well, you search for mankind's weirdest spirits and have them comment on what the cave shows. Wagner, opera, what the heck ? I still only see primitive drawings of animals that lived there during that time.Herzog belongs in a Bhuddist monastery, where he can sit and smoke pot for the rest of his life. That is probably what he has been doing anyway up until now. I do not see why he ever decided to pick up a film camera. Please do not let him near one, ever again.


The last sentence...'nuff said. Bummer. I was looking for inspiring nature movie 'naturally' inspiring.


typical. That's why I preferr to watch these things at home, so I can turn the sound off if I have to. This guy has some great ideas for docs, but he quite often hoses up the actual production by trying to make himself more important than the subject matter.


Now Showing

Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

Box Office Report

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, film info & more!

Movie Trailers