What I Took From Samsara (2011)

There’s a cut in Samsara that is probably the most jarring in the entire film. A woman in Namibia with rich tribal accessories and braided hair clad in hardened clay is shown in a long-held shot. Soft choral music plays along over the scene as we jump cut to an aerial shot of downtown Los Angeles and it’s tangled freeways.


I showed the film to my parents, who seemed inspired by the picture, and my father remarked on the cut.


So why did the transition work so well? Ron Fricke, the director and cinematographer, claimed that the film was edited to silence and the music was added after. However the music is such a vital character in the film and really smoothed over the cut. Again…why did it work?


Because, in spite of the claim by the director that it’s a sort of guided meditation and that the root meaning of the title is birth, life and afterlife, Samsara is really about juxtaposition. What better way to make a viewer really think about our Earth than by showing its extremes one after the other?


I’m not sure I got out of Samsara what Fricke wanted me to. To hear him tell it the picture is meant to evoke emotion, not critical thinking. But the wonderful thing about really powerful filmmaking, and this is one of the most powerful films I’ve ever seen, is that it can mean something different to everyone.


I felt a sort of validation about my views on the human race and it’s reckless destruction itself and of the planet, though there aren’t any shots in the film which comment on that directly. I thought more deeply during, and upon reflection, about man’s futility in his search for understanding of himself. Why do we embrace religion? How can we expect to survive as a species when it took us a few hundred thousand years to reach a population of 1 billion and only another hundred plus years to reach 7 billion? Why did we create Dubai in such a short amount of time when the world we inhabit is filled with natural beauty? Is it vanity that makes man looks at Dubai with pride thinking…”I created that”? Why does vanity even exist?


There are many thought-provoking moments in Samsara. Naturally it elicits emotion but perhaps the emotions can be hard to grasp. It’s an exhausting film, for me at least, because I want so much from it. To Ron Fricke it’s a guided meditation. To me, well…he’s nuts. While I think he’s a cinematic genius and has created a true masterpiece, Samsara isn’t strictly meditative. It’s an examination of this planet and our relationship to it and, sadly, made me think about the inevitability that Earth will reclaim it’s lost possessions once this crazy species of ours is long gone.

- Nick