Wednesday, 6 November 2013
The Great White Silence
It’s always tricky deciding between conflicting events of the Manchester Science Festival. As the last day of the festival approached and I umm'ed and ahh'ed over the events programme, I eventually settled on a screening of The Great White Silence at the Museum of Science and Industry to finish off the jam-packed weekend. Intrigued by the topic, and having been to MOSI’s intimate pop-up cinema before, I felt that this wasn’t one to be missed - so I headed over to the 1830’s Warehouse, found a comfy spot in the gallery, and settled into the blankets (a welcomed addition for a film that will leave you feeling chilly!)
The Great White Silence takes us on a journey through Robert Falcon Scott’s Antarctic Terra Nova voyage, using the fully restored footage of expedition cinematographer Robert Ponting. From games with penguins, to rounds of football in temperatures of minus 70, Ponting takes us through the joys and hardships of their two-year adventure, interspersing the ethereal landscape and eerie soundtrack with his witty and revealing commentary.
Ponting is successful in bringing beauty and life to a landscape that will remain alien to most of us, yet at the same time leaves us with no illusions about the sheer terror of the aptly-named Great White Silence that stretches to the South Pole. After being beaten to the Pole by Roald Amundsen’s Norwegian team, the expedition quickly becomes ill-fated upon the return journey; we see how adverse weather and dwindling food supplies take a heart-wrenching toll on the team, with each man battling on, unwilling to hold back the others.
When the team meet their fateful end only 11 frustrating miles from the one-ton supply depot, Scott’s diary entries, a mix of disappointment and pride, prompt the question of whether such a heartbreaking loss was worth it in the end. But ultimately, The Great White Silence captures the spirit of adventure at its purest, and a fundamental truth that has both helped and hindered our history; that man will bear the costs and battle to the ends of the Earth for the sheer pleasure of raw discovery. A sentiment reflected in the poignant final words of Captain Lawrence Oates, and the immortal words of Tennyson that mark where they lie:
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
A moving and fitting end to this year’s Manchester Science Festival.