Into the Inferno

Synopsis: An exploration of active volcanoes around the world.
Genre: Documentary
Director(s): Werner Herzog
Production: Netflix
  5 nominations.
Rotten Tomatoes:
104 min

We are here in the

Vanuatu Archipelago,

a cluster of volcanic

islands in the Pacific,

about 1,000 miles east

of northern Australia.

Below, the village of Endu

on the island of Ambrym.

A year ago, most of it was destroyed

by a tropical storm

of phenomenal force.

But the village also has to endure

to the periodic fallout

of volcanic eruptions.

Punctuated by catastrophes,

time does not seem to have found a grip

on the community.

We met Chief Mael Moses,

here with members of his large family.

This is Clive Oppenheimer,

a volcanologist

from Cambridge University,

who brought us to this place.

Chief Mael Moses, you're the head

of this beautiful village of Endu,

just a few kilometers

from the volcano crater.

You visited the crater

and looked yourself into the inferno,

- into the raging fire.

- Yeah.

How did you feel when you went there?


I felt very frightened

to look at the fire.


I feel that I was not in

the island of Ambrym.

I thought I was

somewhere else.

And, uh... the other thing,

I feel that...

how powerful that fire is.

Do spirits live in the fire?

That's how we believe,

that spirits are in the fire.

The fire is burning

through that spirit.

We believe that the fire

is burning through that spirit.

I read that there was a big eruption

in 1968,

and that there were rituals performed

to stop the eruption.

And then tourists were not allowed

for three years afterwards

to visit the crater

because it was seen that somehow

the tourists had started the eruption.

Is that...?

Well, we believe that

because we thought that the spirits

that are in the volcano...

if they look at you,

they don't know who is this. Okay?

But if they look at one of us,

they know that, uh,

because we are more or less

related to the volcano,

then they will just be quiet.

Sometimes we say that tourists

won't go up there. Okay?

Because you are foreigners

to that spirit, the volcano.

Once I dreamt about volcano,

I saw people in that fire.

People and women and men.

They're cooking their food in there.

So, it makes me believe

that there is somebody who is...

their spirits are there.

The molten rock,

is that part of the spirit?

The lava expresses

the anger of the devil

who are living in that fire, volcano.

Do the ancestors, then,

live under the volcano?

Yes, we believe that anybody who dies here

goes to the volcano,

and that volcano has become their village,

where you can talk to them

and they can talk to us.

- Can you talk to the volcano?

- I'm not, because, you know,

I'm not related to the volcano.

But one of my brothers is.

He was talking to the volcano.

His father... His father,

when he goes up to the volcano,

and if he wants to smoke,

he just calls out

and the fire will come down,

and take the fire

and light his cigarette or pipe

or something like that.

And if you brother talks to the volcano,

is he allowed to tell you

what the volcano has said,

- or is it just a secret?

- No, it's a secret for him. Yes.

- Do you try and get the secret out of him?

- I've got some.

But Chief Mael Moses is worried

about the loss of their ancient culture.

He asked us to follow him

to a ritual site in the jungle.

Once upon a time,

our people were cannibal.

They see somebody,

and they would like to attack him

and kill him

so that they use it for meat.

And this how they demonstrate it.

Many people here

have lost the dance.

They have lost the idea of dancing.


The custom dance

that you're going to see this afternoon,

just my family will perform the dance.

This a happier dance.

The happiest dance.

After we have gone through

a long suffering,

then we are happy to go back

and dance

and to express ourselves.

I studied here ten years ago

with some colleagues,

scientists from Vanuatu.

For you, is it strange to imagine

that someone would come here to work,

to study how the volcano works,

how it erupts?

I'm very surprised to hear

that you people are very interested

in the volcano. Yeah.

I always ask myself,

"Why do these people

want to do with that fire?"


When looking at this,

going in the helicopter yesterday,

I was wondering,

"Why this man is going...

wanting to do with that volcano, eh?"

Yes, I don't know why

you are so interested in volcano.

In a way, this film started

for me ten years ago in Antarctica.

I was doing a film about scientists

on this continent

which took me to Mount Erebus,

an active volcano,

one of the three in the world

where you can look straight

into the magma of the inner earth.

Magma is the heated molten rock

from which lava can be extruded.

It was on Erebus,

12,500 feet above sea level,

that I met a strange and wonderful tribe

of volcanologists,

some of them overcome

by altitude sickness.

This close to the boiling magma,

which frequently explodes,

we were briefed on the etiquette

of how to deal with the stuff.

One very important thing

to keep in mind

when you're on the crater

is that the lava lake

could explode at any time.

If it does, it's vital

to keep your attention

faced toward the lava lake

and watch for bombs

that are tracking up into the air,

and try to pick out the ones

that might be coming toward you

and step out of the way.

The last thing you want to do

is turn away from the crater

or run or crouch down.

Keep your attention toward the lava lake,

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Werner Herzog

Werner Herzog (German: [ˈvɛɐ̯nɐ ˈhɛɐ̯tsoːk]; born 5 September 1942) is a German screenwriter, film director, author, actor, and opera director. Herzog is a figure of the New German Cinema, along with Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Margarethe von Trotta, Volker Schlöndorff, Werner Schröter, and Wim Wenders. Herzog's films often feature ambitious protagonists with impossible dreams, people with unique talents in obscure fields, or individuals who are in conflict with nature.French filmmaker François Truffaut once called Herzog "the most important film director alive." American film critic Roger Ebert said that Herzog "has never created a single film that is compromised, shameful, made for pragmatic reasons, or uninteresting. Even his failures are spectacular." He was named one of the world's 100 most influential people by Time magazine in 2009. more…

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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