Ireland, 1941. A filmmaker (the voice of Roy Ward) stumbles upon elderly, melancholic ship’s carpenter J.C. Sullivan (Joseph O’Conor). Sullivan tells the tale of a strange and doomed secretive Antarctic expedition he took part in, an attempt to find a passage leading from the South Pole to the North Pole. Sullivan has the battered up films shot on the expedition to prove his story too, so The Forbidden Quest intersperses Sullivan’s curious narrative of the expedition with the silent footage of it.
Said footage Peter Delpeut, the film’s actual director, took from actual
films shot on polar expeditions, lending his film’s tale a degree of
authenticity, yet also a dream-like quality that comes with the territory of
footage shot in the silent era. The colorization of the films, their speed, and
the unreal aura silent movies can so easily take on even when they are – as is
the case with the material here – as authentic as cinema can be put what we see
as close to a filmed dream state as the movies can get. Which may just say
something about the whole concept of authenticity.
Be that as it may, Sullivan’s narrative and the footage Delpeut chose come
together beautifully to create a tale very much in the spirit and tradition of
that part of the genre of the Weird Tale that uses the polar areas of the globe
(still our best bet when we want to think about a place unknown and unknowable
to humans, though we’re doing our best to destroy them) in its search for the
numinous. A search which, I believe, the actual arctic and antarctic explorers
were on in their own ways. It’s an idea that still has some pull and watching a
film like this can still draw one’s mind into these directions, particularly
when it is a film so consciously in dialogue with these traditions, and so
focused on its own quest for the numinous and the horrors and beauties connected
to that quest.
The resulting film is really rather wonderful, feels unpretentious yet takes
on a certain glow I connect to the traditions of the weird, as much as to the
silent movie era.