Werner Herzog’s films defy the very fabric of our known universe. Similarly, the man’s chosen courses of action throughout his life tend to abandon all pretenses to logic, instead giving way to the unlikely, ecstatic truths he is known and heralded for. Perhaps most memorable is his 1974 trek from Germany to France; upon the discovery that his friend, film historian Lotte Eisner, had suffered a stroke and lay on what was possibly her deathbed, he began what amounted to a month-long walk through wintry Europe, certain that his footsteps would keep her alive. After his miraculous visit, Eisner would go on to recover and live an additional eight years.
Like his life, Herzog’s cinematic visions know not of practicality, from the immortal image of a steamship hiked halfway up the slop of a mountain in Fitzcarraldo to his wager with the young Errol Morris that resulted in the aptly titled documentary Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe. It is this kind of romantic, conquer-the-impossible attitude that inspired Linas Phillips to make a similar journey on foot, this time from Seattle, Washington to Los Angeles, California, in order to meet the renowned filmmaker himself. Unlike the senior vagabond’s artistic discoveries, though, Phillips’s journey is more deliberately meaningful, but such self-consciousness doesn’t cause it to be any less quixotic or rich an experience to behold. The young filmmaker’s unwavering earnestness is striking, and while, like Grizzly Man‘s Timothy Treadwell, it’s often difficult to tell whether his self-recorded footage is totally on the fly or somewhat rehearsed, one gets the sense that Phillips understands the active role he’s to take as an artist if his creative yearnings are ever to be fulfilled.
Phillips’s singular determination is not unlike that of the artist he aspires to meet, and so it comes as an incredibly disappointing shock early in the film to learn that Herzog may not be at his Los Angeles home when Phillips finally arrives. For a moment, all seems to have been in vain. Fortunately, however, this is a development that ultimately makes the experience more sublime and rewarding, as the journey comes to represent its own end, thus more fully embodying Herzog’s philosophies of life. Herzog tells Linas in an e-mail that an interview between them would only cheapen his film, and we slowly come to realize what the director means; such a physical connection is largely unnecessary, as Linas has already embodied the spirit of the filmmaker in his actions (it is telling that, during the more hellish moments of his two-month expedition, Linas begins to bear more than a passing resemblance to Klaus Kinski).
And so it is that Phillips’s travels come to hold their own life-affirming profundity, from the minute, overlooked details of the world captured on film (in one strange incident, Phillips finds a goat stuck in the mesh of a fence along the side of a road) to the multitude of seasoned individuals encountered along the way. In what may be the film’s most remarkable sequence, interview footage with three of the many strangers Phillips encounters along the way to his destination—each of them commenting on their troubled backgrounds—are edited together, each culminating in their own miniature revelation, together synchronizing with a strange, unspoken wisdom on the key to overcoming life’s burdens. Walking to Werner‘s aesthetic bears Phillips’s own creative stamp but it effectively channels Herzog’s pathos; the time-lapsed image of a slug crossing a road mirrors many an image from the sedative The White Diamond, and through their own means of exploration, both works discover a holy presence in the world.