There are two distinct sections to this film. Set in the near future, the first 2/3's of the flick is a grand (and classic Wenders) chase across the globe.
Here's the scene: The world is holding it's collective breath, waiting for a large nuclear- powered satellite's orbit to decay. Traffic jams clog all escape routes from the world's major cities. This is where we meet Claire, our heroine. She has no patience for traffic, so she ditches the main roads and heads out to the country.
Things happen: a car pulls past her, big goofy guy (Chico) finishes his bottle of soda, tosses the bottle. Bottle hits Claire's windshield, the cars collide. No one seriously hurt, but they travel on together owing to Chico's car being totaled.
Turns out Chico and his sidekick just robbed a bank. They cut a deal; Claire is to take the money to the big city for them. En route, she meets Trevor McPhee (William Hurt). Nice lookin' fella, something wrong with his eyes, though. Oh yeah, and he seems to be on the run from an Abo gumshoe.
Claire gives him a ride, hauling his bacon out of the fire. To return the favor, he steals some of the stolen money. Still, there's something about him that intrigues her. After touching home base with her former lover, the writer Eugene (Sam Neill), Claire takes off on a search for Trevor that winds through "three countries in three days, baby". The cast of characters grows when Winter, the harmonica playing private dick, joins the hunt.
The chase is the thing now. Differing configurations of hunted and hunters evolve as the backgrounds slip from sprawl to sprawl. It's revealed that Trevor is not McPhee after all, that he's not an opal thief. Instead, he is Sam Farber, an American scientist on the lam with a cybercamera of his own invention in his rucksack. Apparently, one wears this camera as a helmet, and it records your brain reacting to the act of seeing.
Sam, it turns out, is very much a dutiful son. He's stolen this high-tech gear, and is collecting "visions" with it so his blind mother will be able to see.
The chase races on. Moscow to China to Japan to San Francisco. Characters chronicle their activities and stay in contact with each other, with ubiquitous, hand-held visual computers. One of the more amusing and human characters in the movie is a software program, The Bear. This program monitors the global net, tracking its quarry through credit card use or run-ins with border patrols.
As the meta-chase draws to a close, with all the parties having converged in the Great Outback of Australia, the world comes to an end. Unable to stand the uncertainty of the nuke sat plummeting overhead, the US opts for destroying it with a nuke of their own, an attack missile. As the electromagnetic pulse rips through, all motors die, all computers fail, their memories wiped clean, watches stop. The world comes to a halt.
The story goes on, though, even if the world may not. Our heroes reach the science commune where Sam's parents live in peace and research splendor with a tribe of technically adept aborigines. This signals the last third of the movie, as the experiments to bring the images from the cybercamera into the dead eyes of Sam's mother get underway.
I found that the movie bogged down at this point when I saw it in the theater. Not so on the second viewing. The purpose of this technology was not just to help the blind to see, but to actually make our thoughts, or dreams, visible.
Progress, as always, has its costs. Sam's mother can't take the strain of the experiments and she dies. The experimenters themselves, all become addicted to their visions, growing apart as they get hooked deeper. By the time Eugene the writer rescues Claire, she is reduced to begging for batteries... she can't get off without her hand held monitor feeding her the next dream fix.
She goes cold turkey, reading the novel that Eugene had tapped out on an old manual typewriter. Sam is saved as well, sleeping between "two old fellas", Abo healers who take his poison dreams from him.
Though the world seemed to come to an end with the electro-magnetic pulse, the real world just rolled on...
Until the End of the World
Directed by Wim Wenders
© 1991 Trans Pacific Films
Here is the TEXT POPUP for Until the End of the World:
After months alone, they hook up a crystal radioset & pick up a transmission from LA. The word surges out, echoing through the outback "The world is still alive!"
As the group parties that night, celebrating the end of their isolation, Sam's mother slips away. As she dies, she says to her husband, "This is our story. What a chase this has been... what a dance."
"Listen... listen to them singing. "
There is a soundtrack available for Until The End Of The World from Warner Brothers. It's cool fast pop with Talking Heads, Lou Reed, R.E.M., Elvis Costello and many others, along with an original score by Graeme Revell (formerly of SPK).