Disclaimer: By saying anything about “Samsara,” the latest pseudo-documentary/guided meditation from Ron Fricke (“Baraka”), I unavoidably become a pretentious douche. Yes, I’m that guy: the B+ student trying to sound like the A+ student talking about big things he doesn’t yet understand.
Freed of any traditional sense of narrative and without a single line of dialogue, “Samsara” spares us the lecture. Instead, it shows you a series of camera shots and images from around the world — with the exception of maybe one scene — and builds its argument. It simply guides us, asking for the viewer’s diligent participation. Strangely, the film dodges any preachiness — its message is developed through the individual’s engagement.
“Samsara” shows us many religions, but whether or not they are merely superstitions is irrelevant. With the way the film is shot, there’s something plainly divine about the scenes and the land where they developed. And from the land, human culture was grown. We forget that sometimes.
We celebrate our ingenuity, and “Samsara” shows us cities of glass and steel and concrete that should mark the horizon forever. Then, we see a decrepit school after a natural disaster. We mold our own image: a man preparing for liposuction, a woman undergoing plastic surgery. What we get is dissatisfaction: personalized sex dolls, a single tear dropping from a Geisha. We celebrate life: A father kisses his newborn daughter. We commemorate its end: a golden sarcophagus. But do we celebrate life by actually living? “Samsara” shows us long sequences of languishing assembly line workers — as hollow and mechanic as the products they piece together.
Though aware that the world’s not in equilibrium, we remain skeptical of revolution and change. We face great challenges. Where does change begin and how will it end? Would it even matter? For all the places explored in “Samsara,” we remain unaware of their names not one of their names. I think that was purposeful. After all has been said and done, what’s a name to land, to time, anyway?
To state the banal and obvious: There’s a big world out there. For all I know, the most exciting of my sight-seeing aspirations might be relegated to “Shark Week.” But walking out of “Samsara,” I was briefly left in awe; I was uplifted.
An hour later, I was back at the coffee shop, back at my computer, stressing, writing, reading. Coffee followed by more coffee, more reading, more writing.
In the beginning of the film, a group of monks are huddled over a sand painting, painstakingly creating their ritualistic image a few grains at a time. At the end, they nonchalantly erase all their hard work, and put it into a bowl, throwing it all away as easily as we might a Kleenex. And then there’s me, an hour after exiting the Michigan Theater: a conceited writer struggling to delete the inconsequential scraps of this article’s first draft. Had I the discipline to create something so beautiful, I wouldn’t erase it and start anew — I’d publish it.
While I was watching “Samsara,” I didn’t feel like I was being a “pretentious douche.” I had surrendered control. And “like tears in rain,” (see: “Blade Runner”) I took helpless comfort in its vision of timelessness. For those 99 minutes, the entire world was there on screen and everything outside was a reflection of it. I’m not the first to notice or write about this moviegoing phenomenon. But for once, I wished that revolutionary ethos would somehow translate outside that dark theater into the Other World. But the screen had already blackened, and it was gone.
Pretentious douche: over and out.