Jacques Cousteau is at a unique height in the field of marine biology, especially because of the beautiful, impressive film images he has delivered of marine life in all its diversity. One of his first hit films was “The Silent World” from 1956, which received a Golden Palm and an Oscar. Still, that film will surprise current viewers because of the rather disrespectful way in which different animals are handled. Sharks and whales used for fun with harpoons and turtles used as chairs or side tables. Although everything has to be seen in perspective – it was a different time – Cousteau is a bit off his pedestal here. Despite the beauty of most of that film, it leaves a bit of a nasty aftertaste. Fortunately, this does not apply to that other Oscar winner from Cousteau, “World Without Sun”.
“World Without Sun” offers a completely different viewing experience than “The Silent World”, not least because the film takes place under the water’s surface for the entire playing time. This can sometimes feel oppressive, but it also increases intimacy and a sense of belonging. As a spectator you immediately get a bond with these people and the impression that you are on an adventure with them, on a magical voyage of discovery. It’s a bit like witnessing Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon. The association is not difficult to make. Underwater it is as dark as it is in space, the divers move about as calmly and cautiously (and in similar suits) as their colleagues in space, and the underwater craft and research stations look with their round shapes, headlights, and grab arms, particularly futuristic looking.
The movie as a whole also looks like a contemplative science fiction movie. The men quietly take their time for everything, which also needs to be done to preserve oxygen and to keep their body physically and chemically in balance. Underwater, different laws apply than above water, when you want to be able to walk around in the bubble within a research station. The men eat, cards, vacuum, and are cut by a hairdresser in their base station, but the air has been given a sophisticated composition, which they keep an eye on by a parrot that they have brought with them. This is more sensitive than humans and is more likely to detect irregularities. The same tactic that people used to use in the mines to keep an eye on oxygen levels. Everything must be carried out with the utmost care, especially the trip to the (2nd) station, which is a few tens of meters deeper, and which can only accommodate two men. Here the air consists of a combination of oxygen, nitrogen, and helium (which of course leads to comic effects in communication with the home base). But it is not all “interesting doing”; no, it also has a function. In this way, the divers can get closer to animals, fish and plants for longer and closer than they have ever been able to. And at any time. At night they can move between plants and rocks where specially shaped and rarely seen fish and animals hide. They can literally be scanned here by the divers. They are wonderful images. From bouncing shells, arachnid fish, gracefully swimming anglerfish, hammerhead sharks, pintail squid, a school of barracudas, filmed close-up, and a somewhat creepy beast that looks like a plant with many tentacles.
Another advantage of the subsea research center is that it is now possible to culture samples of fish or plants that previously could not be preserved (in good time). One of the magical parts of the film takes place when the men manage to capture very small, fragile creatures and film them with a special camera while being illuminated by a powerful lamp – which is a kind of X-ray machine. The most wonderful life forms pass by in this small container, from a kind of slipper animal (single-celled) to silver-colored, eel-like creatures. It’s like seeing evolution in motion.
“World Without Sun” is an almost meditative experience. the darkness under water, combined with the divers’ probing lights, the futuristic suits, the tight-knit group with their cautious behavior… it evokes memories of the abstract science fiction film “2001: A Space Odyssey”. It almost detracts from the experience when the men start talking in between the beautiful images. This sometimes makes the film seem a bit like a staged play, which also bothered “The Silent World”. But even though there is not really a clear dramatic tension in the film, and nothing has been resolved or an important final ikt: the journey is so impressive that this is more than enough. A journey that every viewer should experience once.