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Last night I saw the movie Samsara for the first time, but possibly not the last. It is stunning, a constant visual treat because of its superlative visual qualities. From beginning to end the movie is gripping, and that is true in all the senses of that word. This is a must-see movie for every visually experimentally inclined person and lover of profound visual experience.

In the other eye this will horrify one’s sensitivity to what being a human is all about. Several scenes chilled me to the marrow. It was not the flocks of chickens being mechanically slaughtered, or the cows being mechanically milked on a huge merry-go-round, or the flesh of animals being chopped up into human appropriate-use sizes. Those images were disturbing, but seen before and a bit conventional. What was new and permeated Samsara were the innumerable closeup shots of people staring unblinking into the camera for painfully long times. The faces were fine examples of the diversity of the human genome, but they were portrayed as blank, unfeeling and unthinking. Inhuman, unthinking!

To emphasize these mindless qualities, that are only a part of the human potential, there were numerous scenes of vast numbers of people doing exactly the same thing at exactly the same time. It is eerie seeing a hundred thousand people, or more — I didn’t count — doing a long, complex and highly formalized routine in perfect synchrony. There were several of these synchronous shots of multitudes taken in different countries. Perhaps there was not a single person in one of these huge crowds who was also in one of the other crowds. Each of those different multitudes doing meaningless physical movements, imbued with artificial constructed meaning, is what bothered me. How can so very many people believe the same thing and do the same thing when it is so arbitrary? Why are so many people unthinking automatons, at least during those moments? Each person must answer that for themselves about themselves, but do these same individuals wonder why there are so many there doing the same thing?

Moving on from those moving scenes, Samsara several times goes into factories where there are hoards of numbered people, at numbered stations doing numbered tasks with numbed minds. They were doing this not for a few minutes in a special ceremony, but for a large portion of their daily life. Perhaps their repetitive work was an involuntary necessity for their livelihood, but the ceremonies, with even greater crowds, were voluntary and must have been fulfilling some more abstract need.

SAMSARA Theatrical Trailer from Baraka & Samsara on Vimeo.
Humanity is a strange thing living in chaotic transition zones converting randomness presented by the world into crystalline routines and productions. We occupy our lives by converting a perceived and confusing mess of random uniqueness into some simply understood pattern of wholeness. It seems the aim of humanity is to understand, and via that understanding to generate meaning, and thus to generate purpose for our lives so we may feel we are part of the great Samsara.