Until the End of the World

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Until the End of the World
Theatrical release poster
Directed byWim Wenders
Screenplay by
Story by
Produced by
CinematographyRobby Müller
Edited byPeter Przygodda
Music byGraeme Revell
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release dates
  • 12 September 1991 (1991-09-12) (Germany)
  • 23 October 1991 (1991-10-23) (France)
  • 25 December 1991 (1991-12-25) (United States)
  • 29 October 1992 (1992-10-29) (Australia)
Running time
158 minutes (US)
179 minutes (Europe)
239 minutes (Japan)
280 minutes (Trilogy Cut)
287 minutes (Director's Cut)
  • Germany
  • France
  • Australia
  • United States
  • English
  • French
  • German
  • Italian
  • Russian
  • Chinese
  • Japanese
  • Portuguese
Budget$23 million
Box office$752,856

Until the End of the World (German: Bis ans Ende der Welt; French: Jusqu'au bout du monde) is a 1991 science fiction adventure drama film directed by Wim Wenders. Set at the turn of the millennium in the shadow of a world-changing catastrophe, the film follows a man and woman, played by William Hurt and Solveig Dommartin, as they are pursued across the globe, in a plot involving a device that can record visual experiences and visualize dreams. An initial draft of the screenplay was written by American filmmaker Michael Almereyda, but the final screenplay is credited to Wenders and Peter Carey, from a story by Wenders and Dommartin. Wenders, whose career had been distinguished by his exploration of the road movie, intended this as the ultimate example of the genre.

The film has been released in several editions, ranging in length from 158 to 287 minutes.


Act 1[edit]

In 1999, panic ensues when an orbiting Indian nuclear satellite begins to spiral toward Earth. Claire Tourneur, who has been traveling around Europe trying, unsuccessfully, to distract herself after discovering that her boyfriend slept with her best friend, is unconcerned by the impending nuclear disaster, though her sleep has been troubled by a recurring nightmare. When she gets stuck in a traffic jam in the south of France after it is projected as a possible impact site, she decides to take a side road. She gets into an accident with a pair of surprisingly friendly bank robbers, who enlist her to carry their stolen cash to Paris, in exchange for a cut of the loot. Along the way, she meets a man who introduces himself as Trevor McPhee. He is being followed by an armed man named Burt, so Claire agrees to let Trevor travel to Paris with her. After reaching the house of her estranged lover, Eugene, Claire discovers that Trevor stole some of the stolen money while she slept.

Claire crosses paths with Burt and finds out that he is going to Berlin. She makes the trip as well and hires missing-persons detective Phillip Winter to help her locate Trevor. Using his computer, he learns that Trevor has a bounty on his head for stealing opal from a mining syndicate in Australia, and access to Trevor's passport and financial information allows him to determine the man has just boarded a flight to Lisbon. When Claire and Winter catch up with Trevor, Winter handcuffs Trevor to Claire, but she voluntarily goes along with Trevor when he runs away. They go to a hotel, where Winter finds them having sex, though Trevor is able to handcuff both Winter and Claire to the bed and escape with more of Claire's money.

Still after the bounty, Winter takes Claire with him to Moscow, where they meet up with Eugene, who Claire has asked to bring her more money. A local bounty hunter with a more advanced computer than Winter has helps them discover that Trevor is actually Sam Farber, who is wanted by the U.S. government for industrial espionage and has a significantly larger bounty on his head than Trevor McPhee does. Winter says he is quitting the job and going home, and Eugene buys a tracking computer to help Claire, who sees Burt again and learns that Sam is wanted for stealing a camera he had helped develop at a lab in Palo Alto.

When Sam buys a ticket to Beijing on the Trans-Siberian Railway, the computer alerts Claire and she leaves Eugene while she thinks he is sleeping. Sam evades Claire, and she ends up traveling through China alone for months. She finally calls Eugene, who tells her to go to Tokyo and meets her there. They go to the capsule hotel where Sam is supposed to be staying, only to find a tied-up Winter and get shot at by various bounty hunters and international government agents who have been tipped off by the bounty hunter they consulted in Moscow. Claire is able to escape and happens upon Sam, who is rapidly losing his eyesight, at a pachinko parlor. She buys them train tickets to a random mountain inn, where the kindly innkeepers provide herbs that heal Sam's eyes. Sam reveals to Claire that the prototype camera he stole was invented by his father, Henry, and is a device that, by recording brain impulses of the photographer for later transfer, takes pictures blind people can see. Though the recording process is hard on his eyes, he has been traveling around the world making recordings of places and people that are important to his mother, Edith, who is blind, so she can see them.

The next stop on Sam's itinerary is San Francisco. He and Claire get robbed by a used car salesman shortly after arriving, so Claire calls Chico, one of the French bank robbers, for help, and he brings more money. Sam cannot get the camera to work when he is trying to make a recording of his sister and niece, so Claire takes over. The final recording done, Sam, Claire, and Chico board a small boat to Australia, where Sam's parents are.

Act 2[edit]

Eugene and Winter, who teamed up and went to Coober Pedy, Australia, to wait for Claire and Sam after losing track of them in Tokyo,[a] pick up the trail when Claire uses her credit card to place a video call nearby. When Eugene sees Sam in town, he punches Sam and they have a brief fight before they are arrested. While Winter tries to bail them out, Burt arrives looking for Sam and the camera, but Chico is able to subdue him. The next day, Sam only takes Claire with him when he takes off to fly to the compound where his parents are hiding and his father has built a secret lab, but the others are able to follow thanks to a secret tracking device that is still on the bag Chico gave to Claire when she first transported the money to Paris.

While Claire and Sam are in the air, the satellite is shot down by the U.S. government, and the resulting NEMP effect wipes the memories of and interferes with the functioning of unshielded electronics. The engine of his plane stops, so Sam has to execute an emergency landing. He and Claire walk across the desert until they are found by Sam's friend David, who has Eugene, Winter, and Chico in the bed of his hand-cranked diesel-powered truck. David takes everyone to Sam's father's lab, which is sheltered in a massive cave. Burt eventually arrives and everyone settles in to wait and see whether communications with the outside world will be restored. Eugene, who was writing a novel about Claire and her adventures before it was erased from his computer by the NEMP, begins rewriting it on an antique typewriter.

The process Henry developed requires the person who recorded the images to watch them while being monitored in the lab before they can be transmitted to someone else's brain. Sam, who has a strained relationship with his father, attempts to do this immediately after arriving,[b] but he fails because he is too tired, which leads to an argument with Henry. Claire tries the experiment with her recording of Sam's sister with phenomenal success, and Sam later succeeds with his recordings. Although Edith is at first exhilarated to be able to "see" again, the ugly, pixellated images she receives contribute to her growing despondency. On New Year's Eve, the same evening the group have intercepted a mundane radio broadcast that indicates human civilization has not ended, she "just let[s] go" and passes away quietly.

After Edith's burial, Winter, Chico, and Burt leave the compound to go home. Henry, hoping to win a Nobel Prize, begins working on how to use his technology to record human dreams, but the Aborigines who have been assisting him disagree with this and abandon him. He continues by experimenting on himself, Sam, and Claire, who eventually become addicted to viewing their dreams on portable video screens. Eugene finds a catatonic Claire and takes her away from the lab, driving her into painful withdrawal when he refuses to replace the batteries for her screen. He finishes his novel, in which he writes her as being healthy and happy, and gives it to her, using the "truth of the words" to cure her of the "disease of images". Meanwhile, Sam wanders away from the lab and is ultimately cured by David and an Aboriginal ritual, and Henry is taken by the CIA while lying in the lab's dream-recording chair.

Eugene and Claire break up for good, but remain friends. Henry later dies in 2001, with Sam visiting his grave. While in San Francisco, Sam sees his wife (who has since remarried) and son from a distance, realizing that he has lost them forever. On Claire's 30th birthday, Eugene's book comes out and he, Winter, and the French bank robbers call Claire, who is in the middle of a six-month stint as an ecological observer on a space station, to sing her "Happy Birthday".



Wenders began working on the film as early as late 1977, when, during his first visit to Australia, it struck him that his surroundings would be the perfect setting for a science fiction film. In addition to fleshing out the complex plot, preproduction also involved extensive still photography. It was not until Wenders found commercial success with Paris, Texas and Wings of Desire, however, that he was able to secure funding for the project.

With a budget of around $22 million ($3.7 million of which came from he Australian Film Finance Corporation[2]), which was more than he had spent on all of his previous films combined, Wenders set off on an ambitious production. Principal photography lasted 22 weeks and spanned 11 countries.[3] Wenders, who had a long-standing fascination with the Australian Outback, shot a substantial amount of the film in and around Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia.[4]

The imagery in the dream sequences were achieved with early high-definition video. Wenders and technicians at NHK (the only facility which could play back HD video at the time) worked for six weeks on these sequences, intentionally distorting the imagery to create strange visual effects. They often recorded a fast-forwarded version of the image, then played it back at normal speed.[citation needed]

Graeme Revell composed the theme and other music for the film. For additional music, Wenders commissioned original songs from a number of his favorite recording artists, asking them to anticipate the kind of music they would be making a decade later, when the film was set.[5] His desire to use all of the pieces he received contributed to his decision to make the film as long as it turned out to be.[6]


The truncated version of Until the End of the World that received a theatrical release was poorly received, being both a critical and commercial failure. In the United States, the film was released by Warner Bros. in December 1991 on 4 screens.[7] The total U.S. box office gross was just under $830,000.[7]

In January 1992, reviewing the theatrical version of the film, Roger Ebert gave the film 2 stars out of 4, describing it as lacking the "narrative urgency" required to sustain interest in the story, and wrote that it "plays like a film that was photographed before it was written, and edited before it was completed". He went on to say that a documentary about the globe-trekking production would likely have been more interesting than the film itself.[8]

Later critics – some responding to Wenders' director's cut – were more favorable toward it.[citation needed] On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an 88% approval rating based on 17 reviews.[9]


The initial cut of the film was, reportedly, 20 hours long.[10][better source needed] Several shortened versions of the film have been commercially distributed or publicly screened. Wenders was contractually obligated by his backers to deliver a standard feature-length film, so he edited it down to the 158- and 179-minute American and European cuts, which he refers to as the "Reader's Digest" versions of the film. Meanwhile, he and his editor Peter Przygodda secretly made a complete copy of the film negatives for themselves at their own expense,[11][12] and over the next year they worked on a 5-hour version of the film, which they then screened at events over the next decade. A version similar to the one shown at these screenings was released at one point as a 280-minute trilogy of films.[13]

There is also a 239-minute letter-boxed and subtitled laserdisc release from Japan, and there are several unauthorized fan edits that combine portions of the aforementioned releases.[14]

A 4K digital restoration from the original Super 35mm camera negative of the 287-minute director's cut was commissioned by the Wim Wenders Foundation in 2014. The restoration, which was supervised by the director and his wife Donata, was undertaken by ARRI Film & TV Services Berlin, with the support of the CNC. This version was screened for the first time in the U.S. at several art house theaters in the fall of 2015 as part of a retrospective tour of Wenders' filmography by Janus Films.[15] It was in two parts, with an intermission at 2 hours, 11 minutes, and debuted on television in the U.S. on Turner Classic Movies in July 2017.

In September 2019, The Criterion Collection announced a special-edition Blu-ray and DVD of the 4K restoration of the 287-minute director's cut of the film, which was released on 10 December 2019.[16][17]


Until The End of the World: Music From the Motion Picture Soundtrack was released on 10 December 1991, and includes the following tracks:

  1. "Opening Title" – Graeme Revell
  2. "Sax and Violins" – Talking Heads
  3. "Summer Kisses, Winter Tears" – Julee Cruise
  4. "Move with Me (Dub)" – Neneh Cherry
  5. "The Adversary" – Crime & the City Solution
  6. "What's Good" – Lou Reed
  7. "Last Night Sleep" – Can
  8. "Fretless" – R.E.M.
  9. "Days" – Elvis Costello
  10. "Claire's Theme" – Graeme Revell
  11. "(I'll Love You) Till the End of the World" – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
  12. "It Takes Time" – Patti Smith (with Fred Smith)
  13. "Death's Door" – Depeche Mode
  14. "Love Theme" – Graeme Revell
  15. "Calling All Angels" (Remix Version) – Jane Siberry with k.d. lang
  16. "Humans from Earth" – T Bone Burnett
  17. "Sleeping in the Devil's Bed" – Daniel Lanois
  18. "Until the End of the World"U2
  19. "Finale" – Graeme Revell

Songs used in the film, but not included on the soundtrack, include:

  • "Trois Jeux d'enfants: Nze-nze-nze", performed by Aka Pygmies (Aka people) (from Centre Afrique: Anthologie de la musique des Pygmées Aka (Ocora C559012 13, 1987))
  • "Blood of Eden", written and performed by Peter Gabriel (a different version, which features Sinead O'Connor, appears on his 1992 album Us, and was released as a single; the version in the film is only available as an alternative track on the CD single of the original, and on his album of out-takes and rarities, Flotsam and Jetsam)
  • "Breakin' the Rules", written and performed by Robbie Robertson (also released on Robertson's album Storyville)
  • "Lagoons", performed by Gondwanaland (also released on their album "Wide Skies")
  • "Travelin' Light", performed by the Boulevard of Broken Dreams Orchestra
  • "The Twist", performed by Chubby Checker
  • "Summer Kisses, Winter Tears", performed by Elvis Presley
  • "La Vieil Homme De La Mer", performed by Laurent Petitgand

The German film director Uli M Schueppel made a documentary film about the recording of "(I'll Love You) Till The End of the World" by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. The film was released in 1990 as The Song and re-released in 2004 under a new arrangement.


  1. ^ Because Sam had been traveling as Trevor McPhee, who was wanted for stealing opals, and most opals are mined around Coober Pedy, Winter figured Sam's trip had probably started somewhere near there and he would come back through eventually.
  2. ^ David had taken the camera from Claire and left with it while Sam was in jail, and the viewer is not told where it was during the NEMP and why the recordings were not wiped.


  1. ^ TCM.com
  2. ^ Bob Evans, "Our Piece of the Action", The Australian Financial Review, 18 October 1991, p. 33
  3. ^ Wenders, Wim; Hagen, Charles (1991). "From The End of the World To Smack Dab in the Middle: An Interview with Wim Wenders". Aperture. 123 (Spring 1991): 90–91. JSTOR 24472429.
  4. ^ "14 films coming to Australia from the Toronto Film Festival". SBS (Australia). 25 September 2017. Retrieved 25 September 2017.
  5. ^ "The Until The End of the World soundtrack promised a hipper future". Film. 21 September 2016. Retrieved 10 December 2019.
  6. ^ "The Strange Case of Until the End of the World: CineSavant Archive Articles". Trailers From Hell. 30 November 2019. Retrieved 10 December 2019.
  7. ^ a b "Until the End of the World". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 5 December 2019.
  8. ^ Ebert, Roger (17 January 1992). "Until the End of the World Movie Review (1992)". RogerEbert.com. Retrieved 15 October 2016.
  9. ^ "Until the End of the World (Bis ans Ende der Welt) (1992)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 11 September 2021.
  10. ^ "Until the End of the World". Barnes & Noble. Retrieved 30 October 2022.
  11. ^ Stewart-Ahn, Aaron (20 October 2015). "Wim Wenders: Looking back on the road ahead". Boing Boing. Retrieved 10 December 2019.
  12. ^ "Aaron Stewart-Ahn Talks His 25-Year Relationship with Wim Wenders' Until the End of the World". Talkhouse. Retrieved 10 December 2019.
  13. ^ Hortn, Robert (1997). "Wim Wenders: On the Road Again". Film Comment. 33 (2): 3–7. JSTOR 43455258.
  14. ^ "Until the End of the World (Bis ans Ende der Welt) (1991) (Uncut) [PILF-7271]". LaserDisc Database. Retrieved 22 June 2019.
  15. ^ "Wim Wenders: Portraits Along the Road". Janus Films. Retrieved 1 December 2019.
  16. ^ Criterion Collection [@Criterion] (16 September 2019). "✨Announcing our December 2019 releases! bit.ly/CriterionDecember19✨" (Tweet). Retrieved 18 September 2019 – via Twitter.
  17. ^ "Until the End of the World". Criterion Collection. Retrieved 18 September 2019.

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