Every so often we are treated to an illustrative film that’s presented without commentary or dialogue. “Samsara” is such an event. “Baraka” in 1992 was a similar visual stream-of-consciousness piece that shed light on our world. “Baraka” captured some of the franticness of the 1990s and “Samsara” seems to embrace the sheer frustration of the world as we see in 2012 while capturing the spirit of “continuous flow”. It is as if the cinematographers are making the case for “taking the long view” in this time of the Kali Yuga.
The visual tour de force includes but is not limited to three dancing Lakshmis, clouds of fire, a baby, Angkor Watt, construction and destruction of a sand mandala, stars, ruins, organic dwellings, carved stone, windows like eyes, sand drifts overtaking abandoned homes, trophies, the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles, caked mud, celestial ceilings, baptisms, Lazarus, Mt. St. Michael, red dawn on dunes, the Rose Window, shyness, frozen falls, dirty ice, salt at Mono Lake, an arch at the Grand Canyon . . . . . . . . . . . . .
All this is played without comment, though soundtrack is quite interesting. Initially the film borders on the final wish scenes of those who’ve chosen to die in the old movie Solent Green – they can select uplifting classical music and a personal screening of all the beauty of the world before it was destroyed by the power elite to die to.
Things get more interesting and ambiguous with a striated rock that looks like a rabbit head with an eye followed by Tanzania Falls, fierce red eyes, yellow unblinking eyes of numerous individuals and dome huts with dwellers wearing strange dreads. Freeways (in Los Angeles?), a tattooed man with his newborn, cars in night traffic – white headlights coming at you, red tail lights as they recede. Two Asian twins – one is a very life-like automaton.
More robotics lead to the most interesting part of the film – a performance artist seated at a dressing table mashes greenish clay over his face, transforming, disfiguring, and manipulating make-up, thick clay applications and conceptual trappings until he becomes a radical and disconcerting mess. That’s my favorite part, and it sums up a sort of message this Samsara brings: we are contortionists, we are mad, we have lost our way most disturbingly but it is all illusion anyway.
After this hair-raising, eye-gouging exhibition of confusion and self-loathing, we get to see a huge golf putting range built for the Malthusian masses, an artificial indoor ski resort, the highest building in the Middle East, island housing like footprints on the sea, and the spiral of land development in Dubai. It is fantastical along with fractal jewels, and contrasts of women in burkas walking past a department store display of men in very skimpy swimwear.
Lakshmi (the Hindu Goddess of prosperity) reappears; we go to the opera, and a play. We visit Times Square, the subways of Tokyo where there are masked manikins modeling anti-SARs fashions. We see pachucos with big hair striving for individuality and a man with the word “Methodical” tattooed on his shaved head. Factory workers, cars made and cars crushed, recycling, some gross food production, pot stickers being made by carpal tunnel-susceptible workers, chicken processing, mega-milking machines, pigs, cows, supermarkets, real looking blow-up dolls, daybreak over a city slum with early-bird pickers, dancing orange something (can’t read my notes written in the dark, and too quickly), and we hear a heartbeat going from very fast to real slow.
To further enlighten us – garbage dumps, sulfur mines like living hell, women carrying impossible bundles on their heads and children everywhere – under arms, on backs, at breasts, then coffins built in the shapes of jets, lions, cars, guns. Gun factories and fierceness vs. tenderness, border crossings, Dome of the Rock, The Wailing Wall, seemingly billions of devotees circling the Haj. The pyramids seen from bleak bedroom windows, and Tibetans again with a shockingly blue-eyed Buddha. Green eyes on multiple hands of dancers with the many arms and legs of one beautiful being in deep knowing and unknowing.
A mystery is touched upon but we cannot grasp it nor solve it, so like “Samsara” we can only enjoy, ponder and embrace this world’s continuous motion.