Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Have you ever looked at a black and white photo of a man from 150 years ago and thought about his perspective?
He lived in a world that is wildly different than ours. He left only a tiny trace of himself for people to remember. Yet, despite the beard, despite the decades, despite his death, the man in the photo is just like me — with hopes and dreams and passions just like mine.
Sometimes I look at old photos and think. Legendary documentarian Werner Herzog just one-upped me in a big way.
“Cave of Forgotten Dreams” is little more than a philosophical old man musing about old pictures for a few hours. But in this case, the pictures are 32,000-year-old cave paintings. And, somehow, it is one of the most powerful documentaries I’ve ever seen.
In 1994, a Frenchman named Jean Marie Chauvet was out for a hike. He stumbled upon a hidden cave. Thanks to a freak rockslide eons ago, the paintings inside were uniquely preserved. Herzog informs us that the Chauvet Cave paintings are twice as old as any that were previously discovered.
We now know for sure what preoccupied the mind of Stone Age man. It was animals. The cave has dozens of beautiful, vivid paintings and they are all animals.
Why animals? We can only speculate. Were the caves temples and the animals gods? Did Stone Age man dream of a future where he could domesticate wild animals and keep them as pets? Was the cave an ancient restaurant and the paintings were the menu? Did the paintings plan out the strategy of tomorrow’s hunt and the wall was a chalkboard where Og Belichick showed Urg Brady where to throw his spear?
We will never know. That’s what distinguishes “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” from just another Discovery Channel science show. Herzog doesn’t talk about facts and DNA evidence. He just shares his feelings about the cave and inspires us to imagine ourselves living in their world.
The only thing we know for sure is that 32,000 years ago, Europe had horses, bison, cave bears, cave lions, and wooly mammoths. It is awe-inspiring to imagine that people just like us lived in the Ice Age, in the shadow of glaciers, surrounded by majestic mammals that have been extinct since the dawn of civilization.
What would a cave man think of our world? “You have global warming AND carnivorous lions and bears are going extinct,” he’d say. “Man, you guys have it good. Wait? You are against those things? That makes no sense.”
These are just the thoughts that came to my head. You’ll have different ones. It is to Herzog’s credit as a filmmaker that he doesn’t draw any conclusions; he just turns his camera on the paintings and lets the artists speak for themselves. You can almost hear their voices whispering through the cold cave walls.
“Cave of Forgotten Dreams” is a beautiful film. See it with someone you love.