Cave of Forgotten Dreams – Review

by Ken B.

First off, eternal gratitude must be sent to Werner Herzog and his crew for gaining entrance and documenting the region of an area only a select few will ever be legally permitted to be near. Cave of Forgotten Dreams shows the insides of Chauvet Cave, in Southern France. It was discovered in December 1994. Rocks had sealed it from the outside world. When inside, cave paintings from 32,000 years ago were uncovered, pristine and vivid as if they had just been made yesterday. Visually, Cave of Forgotten Dreams is chilling and beautiful. A near ghost-like presence surrounds the natural eeriness of being in a place, where, as Herzog puts it, “a frozen flash in a moment in time.” Early on, it’s pointed out that the film crew is limited to four people, they are only allowed in for one hour at a time with a team of scientists, and at no times are they permitted to step off a metal walkway implemented (The walkway, it’s worth noticing, has been carved to preserve any stalagmites that it might meet along the way).

Sooner or later, I wondered if entertainment was really the Grade-A, number one priority of this film. It appears that more was focused on having an existing record of the interior of this historical revelation. That’s perfectly fine, mind you. Despite its actual entertainment value, there’s  a tension, a mood, an absorbing function to the film. Is it Herzog’s footage? His narration? The music? Ah yes, the music. Sometimes welcome, sometimes excessive. According to the end credits, it’s composed by Ernst Reijseger, the usual composer for a Herzog film.

One of the scientists describes the experience of a cave as similar to a Wagner opera or the artists of the drawings as Romanticists. Looking closely at the drawings, Herzog points out that many of the animals in them have eight close legs, suggesting some kind of prehistoric animation technique. Really, this is a sign of the enduring human desire to entertain ones self and others. Also apparent is an early reference to an Astaire device, dancing with your shadow. (Or at least, a comparison the crew makes for you). It’s established that we have physical evidence of what these people left behind, but never will we have any emotional connection that these individuals had. The two most apparent questions one would have after examining the craft of these individuals, “Do they dream? Do They Have Hopes?” are begrudgingly admitted to be un-answerable.

A recommendation for Cave of Forgotten Dreams must be precisely measured before dispatching. Are you looking for a historically monumental piece? One that carefully explains a piece of time long before modern technology existed, and yet shows a sense of daring wonder that would one day be? If that’s your criteria, I’m surprised you haven’t seen this one yet. Are you looking for a deeply educational film to inform you of things you never knew existed? If that’s your criteria, I recommend this one again. Are you looking for American-ized everything-on-a-platter-written-in-Comic-Sans-type documentary making? No. This movie is not and never will be for you. Now go read your history book that was used for the last 25 school years before you. Are you looking for a moving, paced experience? You might find a couple of emotional points buried here. Before watching Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams, you must evenly weigh your want to be educated on the subject.