Samsara is a Sanskrit word that means “the ever turning wheel of life” and is the point of departure for the filmmakers as they search for the elusive current of interconnection that runs through our lives.
Filmed over a four-year period in twenty-five countries on five continents, Samsara transports us via stunning 70mm cinematography to the varied worlds of sacred grounds, disaster zones, industrial complexes, and natural wonders. By dispensing with dialogue and descriptive text, Samsara subverts our expectations of a traditional documentary. It encourages our own interpretations, inspired by breathtaking images and transcendent music that infuses the ancient with the modern. Samsara explores the wonders of our world, from the mundane to the miraculous, looking into the unfathomable reaches of man’s spirituality and the human experience, and illuminating the links between humanity and the rest of nature.
Some movies are visual feasts, and Samsara certainly qualifies. This movie is like eye candy to the masses and yet it still finds a way to be heartbreaking at moments as well. Director and do everything cinematographer Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson go to insane lengths to get their shots and it shows in the finished product. In fact, the numbers are staggering:
They traveled to 100 locations over a five year time frame and went to 25 different countries to do so. That is an insane commitment and one that is done with gusto and flair. That they have a phenomenal piece of human culture forever captured on film is not in doubt.
The frames give the viewer a plethora of comfort food for the eyes as one by one, Fricke gives us something else to chew on. Like his previous films such as Baraka and Chronos, Fricke goes to extreme lengths to ensure that we are satisfied with the variations.
The movie itself is supposed to be all about the cycle of life, death and rebirth according to the Sanskrit word that forms its namesake. As you watch the various frames pass by you get that feeling often. It does take you on a journey if only a visual one.
Fricke states that he wants you to go on a journey of meditation and to wonder along with him about the oddities and wonderment of the world. The movie is certainly successful on that end of the entertainment spectrum. Visually there are no complaints whatsoever with the goal of the film.
Unfortunately, we are not only visual creatures. Human beings also like to know are curious and beg for information. Watching all of these incredible images with no idea about what we are seeing or where is like a form of torture. Samsara does, in fact, seem to revel in the fact that some images are nearly impossible to identify. That is the point, I would imagine, of the director’s vision. Still, it is mind numbingly frustrating except for the most discerning of artistic minds. Most of us do not think and see in abstract.
Also, I enjoy movies like this when I know where they are, that way my fantasy of being there can be more complete. It is hard to picture being in a spot that you are not entirely certain is on your map. You know it should be but you have no hope of pinpointing it based on the movie.
There are enough familiar places to give you a taste of perfection within the film. When you are viewing those spots, Samsara is an explosion of imagination at your feet. The film is nearly tantric in its delivery and it keeps you constantly wondering and thinking.
Towards that end there are some very odd sequences that take you to a very uncomfortable place. They don’t really seem to fit into the movie for me, but I can understand what Fricke was attempting to do. You can still see wonderment even in disturbing images. It is important to document the bad with the good sometimes. It also intensifies the good when it flashes up on the screen. If you look at a rotten apple lying at the base of an apple tree, and the very next image you see is of an average apple hanging on the tree and healthy, then the healthy apple will look like the best one on the planet.
Although the film has some oddities like this, overall it is one of the most fascinating and beautiful films I have ever seen. From start to finish I was mesmerized by the images flashing across the screen. It is worth every penny to see on the big screen as well.