If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the new documentary film by Ron Fricke (Baraka) might be worth a million words give or take. His new film Samsara, a Sanskrit word that means “the ever turning wheel of life”, comes on the heels of his other visual stimulating films and like the other contains no dialogue; only sounds, music and arresting and incredible images. The movie, filmed on five continents over five years, works on many levels creating a vicarious travelogue of destination. However, the film looks beyond the normal tourist view. Think of the difference of a tourist who spends a few days in a country and only views the appealing surface rather than the seasoned traveler who spends more time and discovers the real seedy underbelly of the area.
Like a race horse getting a slow start from the gate, the first half of the film lacks focus but still the images (bursting volcanoes, beautiful costumed Asian dancers, disaster zones) and stirring music keep the interest level up.
In the second half Fricke cracks the whip and presents more of a “story” showing the world’s over consumption, overbuilding, and pure excess.
He takes his camera in the industrial food supply to gives horrific images of overcrowded chickens in a huge chicken coop. Fricke gets access to the inside of a highly mechanized Asian based slaughterhouse. Seeing cows go round and round on a feeding carousel and pigs being sliced and gutted would be something that every American should see. Even the film version of Fast Food Nation did not capture disturbing images such as these. He follows these industrial farm scenes with three overweight fast food patrons eating an assortment of hamburgers, chicken nuggets, fries and large sodas. And we wonder why the US suffers from obesity and increasing diseases.
Although many of the images point toward a “day of reckoning” he does capture moments where people in various countries reuse and recycle the huge mountains of e-waste and garbage.
For the most part he focuses on masses of people (such as in Mecca), masses of waste (everywhere), and excess (like the showpiece real estate in Dubai). He shows things in the world continuing to grow at an alarming rate (e.g. the stomachs and empty calories of Americans, the skyscrapers in Dubai, the strength of the storms (Katrina in the Ninth Ward New Orleans).
The home stretch brings the film together as Fricke neatly creates a stirring montage of scenes displaying how we humans better take note of the worsening conditions, natural disasters, and heaps of waste littering the rivers; otherwise we may end up living in the last shot of the film – the barren landscape of one of the Namib desert.