By the time we got to the Bungle
[in Western Australia], we were
almost as crazed as the characters themselves," says Sam Neill of Until The End Of The World's climactic
scenes. "We'd been on the road a long time." A classic Sam Neill
pause ensues, one of many that fragment his conversation.
"I think I'm still lost to an extent," he says of
working on the Wim Wenders epic. "It's not something I've completely come
to terms with. All I know is it was a very magical time and one of the most
extraordinary little chapters of my life."
It's Neill's mixture of gentlemanly charm and veiled passion
that has put the Irishborn New Zealander at the forefront as a leading man.
Judy Davis (My Brilliant Career),
Meryl Streep (Plenty and Evil Angels), Rachel Ward (The Umbrella Woman), Nicole Kidman (Dead Calm) and Zoe Carides (Death In Brunswick) have all enjoyed the
blend of romance and restlessness with which his screen presence is imbued.
In Until The End Of
The World, Neill plays the subtly emasculated, passive-aggressive writer,
Eugene; Solveig Dommartin is his former lover, the existential wench, Claire,
just too burst on experience to make anything work. William Hurt is the mystery
man she falls for and pursues around the world. Based on a script by Wenders
and Peter Carey, Until The End Of The
World spans the globe from Paris
across Spain, Russia,
and the US,
before culminating in the red deserts and mountains of Aboriginal Australia.
Set in 1999, we see a familiar world permeated by futuristic
technology and the threat of a rogue nuclear satellite in the heavens above.
"To an extent, Eugene
is an alter-ego of Wenders himself. There's an essential sweetness and
innocence in Wim that somehow percolated itself into this particular
character," Neill explains.
Part metaphysical road movie, part romantic thriller, Until The End Of The World has attracted
equal amounts of praise and attack from critics around the world.
"In completely objective terms, I can understand the
hostility that some critics have felt," says Neill. "But I myself hold
it with a great deal of affection. And while it's probably truer to say it's
more uneven than other films, there are moments which are quite luminous.
"It was apt that I should play the narrator,
Eugene," he continues. "And no coincidence. After doing Death In Brunswick, I'd had a bit of a
breakthrough in terms of my perceptions of character. Brunswick, for
me, was an exploration of the nature of innocence.
"So I stuck with Eugene's
innocence in Until The End Of The World.
If I'd made him someone who was cynical or world-weary or complex then the
simplicity and openness with which he's prepared to sacrifice himself for
Claire in the name of love would not work."