Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Casey's Stories: Encounters At the End of the World

Wow, this was a great movie. Ostensibly about the continent of Antarctica, it really turns out to be a close study of the people who live and work in Antarctica. Most of them are scientists, who all seemed very interesting, but some of the best characters were the workers at McMurdo Station, many of whom were probably slightly crazy. Quite a few people who seemed to just never settle down, and ended up working in Antarctica as part of their travels.

One of my favorite parts was when the filmmaker interviewed the penguin specialist. This guy has been living down in Antarctica with penguins for twenty years, and is, and I quote, "a taciturn man, who in his solitude was not much for conversation with humans anymore." Let's just take a moment to recognize that this guy is pretty much living my dream of being a hermit (except in my dream I am studying squirrels instead of penguins). He was suitably awkward, and never even looked straight into the camera, always keeping his head slightly turned away.

The best part was when the filmmaker, struggling to get this scientist to speak further on penguins, says, "Dr. Ainley, I read somewhere that there are gay penguins. What are your observations?" Dr. Ainley then went on to talk about penguin threesomes that he has observed in the field, and also the fact that there are penguin prostitutes. (Did you know that there were penguin prostitutes? I sure didn't.)
But the underwater scenes were particularly spectactular. I don't know about the rest of you, but I always kind of assume that life only exists within a narrow section of our temperature scale, and am always surprised when living creatures make their homes in very hot or very cold places. The temperature in the waters around Antarctica is about -2 celsius, so it's pretty cold.* But the creatures down there are out of this world. I actually gasped out loud a few times during the underwater scenes.

Wouldn't you gasp too? Those things are just creepy! One of the scientists who studies the underwater life was a big science fiction nerd, and he noted that while the creatures we can see are quite strange, the microscopic creatures are even crazier and said it would be a terrifying place to be if one were the size of a microbe. Wow.

Perhaps one of the reasons I so enjoyed this movie is that I've always dreamed of working down at the McMurdo Station. I remember reading about it in National Geographic back when I was younger and thinking about how awesome it would be to work in Antarctica for a while. Of course, it's highly unlikely I'll ever get there, and I'm okay with that. But maybe I can convince Brandon that instead of doing Peace Corps when we retire we can move to Antarctica and help our scientist friends learn more about penguin threesomes.

*Yes, I realize that water shouldn't still be liquid at -2 degrees celsius, but this is what the diving scientist dude told me. He seemed to know what he was talking about.

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