Where The Green Ants Dream is an odd film, in that it is more mainstream and accessible than many of Werner Herzog’s other films, and at the same time it is ambiguous both in its ending and how accurately it portrays its main theme, the conflict between Australian aboriginals and corporate interests.
The story centers on a geologist (Bruce Spence) working for a mining firm blasting for uranium somewhere in the outback. He is preparing to celebrate an imminent find when problems set in. A widow claims her dog has disappeared in a mineshaft, which holds up blasting, and then a group of aboriginal leaders form a sit-in protest in front of earth moving equipment. Reprimanding a worker who simply wants to push the protesters out of the way, the geologist listens to their story, learning that the aborigines consider this “the place where the green ants dream,” and if the ants lose their place, the world will end. The mining company begins making offers of money and profit sharing to appease the aborigines. A crazed biologist, channeling Klaus Kinski, arrives to explain that the green ants are actually magnetic, and always align themselves facing east. When two Aboriginal leaders travel to Sydney to visit the headquarters of the mining company, they are intrigued by a military plane. The mining company arranges to borrow it from the military and have it parked at the site. The aborigines build a runway, and the plane arrives. Meanwhile, the dispute goes to Australian Supreme Court, with the ruling not surprisingly favoring the mining company. A boastful aborigine who is trying to impress a woman climbs into the plane alongside the leader and flies away into the sunset, never to be seen again.
Herzog’s agenda is pretty clear. Wanting to portray the conflict between spirituality and technology, between tradition and progress, he invents a court battle which is not based on a true story, but very well could be. The fact that Herzog made up both the biology and the legend surrounding the green ants, points to exploitation of a different kind, as the director borrows the plight of the Aborigines in order to illustrate his own assumptions. Possible cultural appropriation notwithstanding, this is a thought-provoking film with some beautifully filmed sequences.