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Originally published Thursday, February 6, 2014 at 10:05 PM

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‘The End of Time’: a slow-ticking meditation on time

A review of “The End of Time,” director Peter Mettler’s experimental documentary about human perception of time.

The New York Times

Movie Review

‘The End of Time,’ a documentary directed by Peter Mettler. 114 minutes. Not rated. Grand Illusion, through Thursday.

The New York Times does not provide star ratings with reviews.

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When Canadian director Peter Mettler narrates “The End of Time,” his experimental documentary about human perception of time, there is a feeling of listening to a recording of a hypnosis technique. Loud, droning noises open the film and lead the audience to get lost in a deep, pulsing sound. Softly and slowly, Mettler utters suggestions like, “You don’t always need to know the name of what you see.” And “It doesn’t matter what time it is.”

He travels to Switzerland, Hawaii, Detroit and India to ask people, “What is time?” The answers often sound like statements made by teen­agers pondering the essence of everything while on drugs. A woman who is part of a gardening and landowning group in Detroit perceives time as round rather than linear, which pleases her, since it’s “more like the things I aspire to be, like the bees.”

It’s easy to mock some of these notions, and it’s to Mettler’s credit that he never does. His questions are answered with more questions, because words seem ultimately useless in his query.

What is more interesting is listening to the pacing of his subjects. Mettler leaves in pauses for thoughts and transitions rather than editing answers into sound bites. He also edits the words into an associative, aural abstraction: an overlapping narration that is out of sequence yet in sync. “Who knows,” one subject says. “Who knows?” another asks.

His images of galaxies, mandalas, particle accelerators and glowing red lava become his real subjects. He uses music and sound to control the pace, to slow time, as if cinema were a form of enforced meditation.

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