I led a small panel consisting of me on Monday night at The Nickelodeon for the community talkback after the screening of Baraka as part of the Faith on Film Series. If you haven't seen the documentary, stop reading here because the rest of this post is an extended spoiler. It's available for rent or purchase online from iTunes and Amazon. While it was released in 1993, the film is fresh. It's a gentle critique of the modern world we inhabit, a world that can be a hindrance in our efforts to connect with God the creator.
I don't make any claims as a film critic but from my perspective as a pastor and preacher the film was engrossing. Below are the ten observations I shared with the audience after the movie.
- The wilderness is beautiful in HD but miserable in real life. The cinematography was spectacular, good enough to make barren landscapes look welcoming. The absence of human life in the shots was an indication that the wilderness was in costume, masquerading as an hospitable environment from afar.
- The film was released in 1993, but 20 years later it still seems to be fresh. Besides a few older cars and a shot of the Kuwait oil-field fires there wasn't much to date the movie.
- The people and places in the first third of the film seem far off, exotic, and naturally beautiful at a distance. The medium of film allows you to keep their experiences at arms length. Still, no matter how big the screen or how expressive the sound system, I struggled to remember that the scenes are virtual and compressed and slightly contrived.
- Music did what words could not. Even though the film has no script or obvious plot, the music still evokes strong feelings and emotions that were generally optimistic and hopeful. In some cases the soundtrack was heavy-handed.
- The raw cultic rituals were demonstrated with surprisingly clean costumes. Especially in the first third of the film my creeping cynicism made me wonder to what degree the participants were performing. Real cultic expressions and rituals must be true to both life and death.
- Creation in its natural state has order. The animals moved in herds as the people expressed their religion in community.
- In the middle third of the film the difficulties of holding on to ancient rituals in the face of modernity is evident. We are alerted to the harsh reality that our cultic and religious practices will soon be solitary pursuits. .
- There are still people holding out - refusing to bend to the stiff winds of modernism, technological advancement. But the movie made it appear as if the only adaptable people are in the Eastern part of the world.
- Two things were missing? 1) Women. 2)Where are the Protestants? We gave up our cinema worthy religious rituals at the reformation. And I think we are still suffering from the absence of multi-sensory spiritual experiences.
- I kept fighting the urge to look for subtitles, some sort of explanation or story behind the images. AM I too impatient to make up my own stories and use my imagination? Perhaps this is a subtle statement the film is making. We have all turned into indistinguishable little chickens (see the movie for this reference) incapable of finding our own way.