In 1909, American, Robert Peary, embarked on an Arctic expedition, and – after a momentary stop over to impregnate a fourteen-year-old Inuit – claimed to have reached the geographical North Pole for the first time. Whether Peary actually reached the Pole was and remains a fact of some contestation. Nevertheless, his life and works, particularly his imperialist treatment of the Inuit people, are dramatic enough to make for a compelling film. Unfortunately, it isn’t this one. More Godot than Kurtz, Peary is the shadowy eminence whose fabled presence never materialises, not even for a cameo.
Rather, Endless Night entirely concerns his wife, Josephine Peary, played here by Juliette Binoche. Living in Greenland, Josephine grows tired of waiting for her husband to return, and so sets off on her own trek through the ice to find him, guided by Gabriel Byrne, egregiously cast as a native Sherpa. Naturally, the decision proves disastrous, and after losing Byrne to the auspices of nature, Josephine finds herself sequestered in an igloo for The Polar Winter with the Inuit girl, Allaka (Rinko Kikuchi), who is carrying Robert’s baby.
Endless Night is a terribly inconsistent film. It starts off like African Queen on the tundra, but Byrne is gone after thirty minutes, and it devolves quickly into an unhallowed mixture of Nanook Of The North meets She’s Having A Baby. While the decision to make a film about the explorer’s wife rather than the explorer may have seemed an interesting usurpation of roles on paper, there is not enough genuine substance in the characterisation, nor enough excitement in the film, to merit its existence. There are a few touching moments between Josephine and Allaka, but mostly it proves difficult to get past the tired stereotypes – the haughty, out of her depth society matron; the wise, tender native – and the clunky humanism which are supposed, but fail to, compensate for the actual lack of a story. Even the scenery proves undiverting, being as it is, made entirely of ice. Endless Night – despite its occasional rays of sunshine – is likely to leave you cold.