In a year that has witnessed the big hitters, such The Wolf of Wall Street, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, The Amazing Spiderman 2, Captain America: The Winter Soldier amongst many others, all marred by lengthy running times; Lav Diaz’s Norte, the End of History, with an empathetic four hour and ten minute duration, is something of a peculiar case.

It tells the story of three people whose lives become intertwined when law student Fabian (Sid Lucero) commits a double murder and Joaquin (Archie Alemania) takes the fall, leaving his wife, children and parents to fend for themselves. Frequently accused of being an enemy of man, time is an enduring entity that confronts every filmmaker who attempts to imbue his or her film with a precise pace, and thereby ensure that the credits roll neither too soon nor too late. Diaz’s latest cinematic odyssey sees him not so much conquer time as forge a collaborative relationship to ensure that this time around his 250 minute mini-odyssey serves well his tale of human drama. Dwarfing those aforementioned films, Diaz in the same vein as Lars Von Trier whose Nymphomaniac Volumes 1 and 2, turning an elongated running time into an asset rather than a disadvantage, silencing the clocks in our minds and showing that every second should be required and earned.

Opening with a collision of cynical and optimistic philosophical debate, Fabian walks a fine line between identifying himself as either the antagonist or protagonist of the piece. He argues of the death of truth and meaning, and as we digest the impassioned but friendly words of the debate he participates in, we find ourselves amidst the swirling existential shadows. Imagine a rolling sky reaching over the world of Norte, and one would see a sky occupied by rolling black clouds, Joaquin the source of light trying to break through, and Fabian the thunderclouds building to unleash their raucous might. Diaz skilfully offsets his films with opposites – the fate of two violent actions leading to two contrasting punishments – one of incarceration and the other of freedom. The latter however may be more aptly described as the punishment of memory, shame and conscience, and whereas Joaquin is punished for a momentary lapse in judgement and is trapped within the structure of the prison, Fabian’s prison is his mind, and the open space that engulfs him like the walls of a prison.

These divisions Diaz structures his narrative around stem from the philosophical oppositions that open the film, but Norte, the End of History also offers a meditation on the survivalist versus the defeatist mentality, and the healer versus the injured comrade who inflicts suffering. It raises the question of when does life become meaningless. Is there a point at which optimism becomes naive futility or is it human nature to hope and to survive? Is the capacity for good what fends off the futility of life? Diaz places his drama on the brink of existentialism, though it never quite becomes submerged beneath these waters. Diaz understands the emphasis on the conversational exchanges, as well as those moments of silent reflection to draw us in. He creates a harmony within the slow unwinding 250 minute drama through the intrigue of the unfolding journey of his three characters.

Whilst we idly peer in on personal tragedy, Diaz creates a moral jigsaw puzzle of the social, national and individual – presenting the struggle to find a moral balance and to rise above the simple motivation of survival. A country as a victim of failed revolutionary ideals is touched upon with a melancholy that offsets the reflection of the need to retain the childlike quality of ambition to change one’s world. But Notre, the End of History is a film of layers, and equally it speaks of the need to come to terms with one’s world, so that no matter the scars one carries, one can discover a harmony in some sense of the word.

There are those films that offer a visceral experience, and then are those which possess a more sensual touch. Norte, the End of History is the latter. Distancing himself from soundtrack in favour of natural diegetic sounds allows Diaz to create an unconventional melody within the film’s fabric; a soulful presence that presents us with an intriguing film. Diaz cuts the consciousness of his camera or the ability of music to touch our sensibility to tell us how we should feel. Instead he predominantly allows the action in front of the camera to dictate the tempo from which emerges the films unusual melody. By limiting the cuts or change of camera angles, he affords the scenes to play out without his intrusive touch, and therein he places us as observers or voyeurs and makes us feel as though we are intrusive in our presence.

The absence of the conscious camera, the stimulation of music and the lack of intrusive editing serves to hand control of the film over to itself. By relinquishing control Diaz allows it to breathe and exist as it so desires, and therein he discovers the consciousness of cinema that liberates him from traditional filmic melody to create a unique one based on the musicality of everyday and natural sounds. In order to experience without image and sound touching our sensibilities we are required to listen to the words of the characters, and to bring our own life experiences, ideas, along with an ability to reflect on the ideas of fictional characters to cement our experience of this human drama.