Best of the “Qatsi trilogy - a fitting ending (beginning?)

J. Walker, kindrhino1, Amazon, November 23, 2003

I must admit that I cannot comment on the technical aspects of the DVD transfer. I am writing on the basis of my experience of this film in the theatre. That said, I would commend - and recommend - this film on several important t aspects, especially as compared with the previous two films in the trilogy.

First, the score is amazing: mesmerizing, beautiful, and even at times serene. Philip Glass has natured (as have we all) since the release of “Koy”; instead of a barrage of 1/32 notes over and over, the music does not overwhelm either the visual images or the listener. By no means do I wish to criticize the “Koy” music as inferior work; I simply mean that Glass does not let technique rive the music, as I believe he does in some of his earlier works. Glass also gives Ma’s cello breathing room, allowing Ma to provide the humanistic/humane counterpoint so essential in the juxtaposition of music and image in “Naqoyqatsi.” Hands down, then, the aural experience of “Naqoyqatsi” equals or betters anything Glass has orchestrated.

This brings us to the visuals themselves. “Naqoyqatsi” is a true postmodern social critique, in that it uses the very images it wishes to critique in the critique itself. The lens is turned back on itself, as it were. Never has McLuen’s idea of the “medium is the message” been better - or more effectively - illustrated than in this film. (In fact, the fact illustrated by Reggio that technology - the medium - comprises the world of messages in which we live is a key part of understanding the “Life as War” simile key to the point of the film.) Reggio’s central theme is that technology has turned the world into Babel - hence the opening images of the film - a Babel of misunderstanding between cultures, nations, individuals and ourselves. Rather than brining all these disparate elements together, technology has instead produced a violent fragmentation of human understanding, no matter how “beneficent” we believe it to be. Reggio uses digital images that perfectly demonstrate this point. For me, one very effective segment occurs later in the film: a barrage of cultural symbols (not words) that make up the mosaic of 21st century life spin dizzyingly toward the viewer, approaching faster and faster until religious, political, economic/capitalistic and corporate symbols blur together and lose their unique, individual meanings. By showing these images in the medium (mostly digital) Reggio does, he performs a scathing criticize (his “message”) on the very danger posed by technology.

That brings us to the third and perhaps most brilliant aspect of “Naqoyqatsi.” I notice that many peer reviewers criticize the movie for not addressing the theme “Life as War.” If one goes solely by a count of “traditional” warfare images - mushroom clouds, battlefield scenes, and the like - then such criticism stands. However, the “war” Reggio/Glass want to condemn is the dislocation of self from self - oneself from another, oneself from nature, and oneself from one’s own self - made possible through technology. “Life as War” as defined in this film, I believe, means that technology has the frightening potential (a potential already realized in many ways) to so fragment our existence that we lose our humanity. Technology threatens to create an ever-widening gulf of alienation between what is “real” and what is “fabricated,” so much so that we lose touch with the humane life. Life instead becomes empty symbol and meaningless chatter and image. What little remains of human dignity and human cooperation lies in danger of further disintegration. This sets the stage for near-total dehumanization, where acts of killing, murder and maiming lose any reference point on a moral compass.

This is why Reggio must use the digital images as he does in “Naqoyqatsi”: only by using those images can he demonstrate the alienating potential of technology. The critique becomes much stronger by using the images themselves rather than through some other approach.

For these reasons I rate this, the last of the trilogy, as the bet of the three. I would heartily recommend this film to all concerned with what it does mean to live in the 21st century - and what it will mean to make life humane despite the siren call of technological abuse.

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