A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 53 – Koyaanisqatsi

Koyaanisqatsi – April 22nd, 2010

This is not a movie with a plot. It has no named characters and no dialogue and no screenplay with stage directions. What it is is a movie with a message and beautiful cinematography and a mesmerizing soundtrack. Have you seen it? Have you heard about it? If you haven’t seen it or have only seen parts, this is going to be hard for me to explain to you. And that’s fine. I’ll do my best, but ultimately I’m going to suggest that if you are at all interested, you should find a copy of the movie and just sit down and watch it. Plan out an hour and a half to just sit and take it in all in one sitting. It’s best that way. And be well-rested before turning it on. Some of it is, as I said, mesmerizing, and I can see how some of the calmer, more peaceful sections could lead to sleep if you need a nap. The bizarre part is that I don’t at all mean that in a bad way.

The word ‘koyaanisqatsi’ is, according to the movie, a Hopi term that roughly translates to the movie’s subtitle: Life out of balance. And so the movie is a series of sections showing the natural world – deserts, rivers, caves, etc. – with no humans, then moves slowly into populated areas and then shows humans and the things we do. It’s all done in beautiful wide shots or time-lapse shots showing movement over the course of hours or days. And it’s all set to a Philip Glass score. If I was going to get all academic about it, I could probably make a case for there being something akin to a plot here, and conceptual characters such as “nature” and “humanity” and “technology” and I’m sure I could get a halfway decent paper out of that. But that’s not what I’m doing here. That’s not why I’m watching. I’m watching because it’s beautiful. It’s just occurred to me that I would absolutely love to see an IMAX (wraparound, not dome) version of this movie. The footage in it is stunning. I haven’t seen the other two films in the trio (Powaqqatsi and Naqoyqatsi), but I’d like to at some point. We don’t own them yet. We should. I’ll be adding them to our To Buy list later.

Having watched this now a number of times, I can stand to look away a bit and write this review and eat my dinner, but I remember the first time I watched it and how I simply couldn’t take my eyes off of the screen. There are a couple of parts in particular which have stuck with me since that first viewing. One is the opening, with all of the footage of the natural world. The others are the most overtly destructive visuals: The atom bomb test footage, the ending with the rocket exploding, and then the footage of the Pruitt-Igoe housing development and its subsequent demolition. Without any dialogue or written storyline, the movie still manages to make me tear up watching those, not merely because of the images being shown, but the meanings those images and events carry with them. The movie makes me think, which is, I believe, the intent, so despite being somewhat dated in terms of the fashion and cars and video games on display, I believe it succeeds. I’ll certainly be watching it again. And again and again.


April 22, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , | Leave a comment


April 22, 2010


It’s Earth Day today, so we searched our collection for something with an appropriately environmental message. We contemplated An Inconvenient Truth, but chose to delay it in favor of this sublime piece of un-movie. I’ve seen this movie four or five times all the way through and even so I can’t take my eyes off the screen long enough to write this review. (Seriously, you should see how many typos there are with me touch typing like this!)

I find a number of things astonishing about this movie. For one – it’s amazing that a movie with no dialog and no characters and really no plot can have such a powerful narrative feel to it. It tells a story directly from your eyes and ears to your brain without any of that intervening interference from your conscious mind. I mean, it’s pretty much just a series of images stitched together and bound by the mesmerising Philip Glass score. It’s all about sensory overload, bombarding you with more input than your brain can process. But it also makes you look at your own life in a different way.

It’s a subversive film in that it challenges you to see your day-to-day life and the complacency that it implicit in it. It’s an indictment of the consumerism and mechanization and dehumanization of the modern age – all without ever having a single spoken line. It’s a deeply touching human film without any characters whatsoever. In short: it’s a major accomplishment in film making.

Another thing I find amazing about this movie is how perfectly relevant it still is today, almost thirty years after it was first made. The way of life it portrays has barely changed at all in my entire lifetime. Life is a hectic and troubled and meaningless as it was back then. And behind the scenes everything is more inhuman and mechanized than ever before. Yes, the styles have changed and the technology has made some incremental changes, but for the most part it’s as though we’re all standing still – while racing towards destruction at the same time. A very odd thing.

I don’t really know what else to say about this movie. If you haven’t seen it than no words can adequately portray it for you, and if you have then you’ve already had your mind blown so I have nothing to contribute. I would encourage anybody who hasn’t seen this movie before to watch it. At least once. And Earth Day is as good a time as any.

Let’s hear it for Earth. She’ll be here long after we’re all gone.

April 22, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , | 1 Comment