‘Samsara’ is a Mind-blowing Film Experience

BY Robert Lamb / POSTED September 10, 2012
Sex doll heads stare back at us from just one of the realms of desire depicted in "Samsara." (Magidson Films) Sex doll heads stare back at us in “Samsara.” (Magidson Films)

If you’ve ever seen Ron Frickle’s 1992 non-narrative masterpiece “Baraka,” then I don’t have to sell you on his latest film, “Samsara.”

Both films take the viewer on a visual odyssey around the world, through scenes of ancient human devotion, ruins set against the backdrop of time-lapse starscapes and the relentless advancement of human culture — all shot in breathtaking 70 mm.

At times beautiful and reassuring, other times crushing in their deception of who we are, these are films that will go in the time capsule, informing future human culture who we were and what sort of world they emerged from.

“Samsara” takes a more direct approach in conveying meaning through its barrage of images — at times to the point of being a little heavy-handed. But that’s a hard trap to avoid in a film with such a title. You’ll remember Buddhism’s Wheel of Samsara (illustrated here in a fantastic HSW flash animation), which details the various realms of experience that revolve around the traps of desire. These realms range from dour netherworlds of grasping to divine heights of ecstasy.  “Samsara” takes us through such worlds here on Earth — 100 locations in 25 countries — and the results, expectantly, range  from the splendid to the soul-crushing.

We see the clockwork machinations of industrialized animal slaughter, followed by a time-lapse fast food orgy in an American burger joint — and then we’re inside a plastic surgeon’s office, where a doctor marks an obese man’s bloated stomach with a surgical marker. Amazingly enough, the guy on the row in front of me continued to chow down on a bucket of buttery popcorn through all of it.

Another scene takes viewers through the dehumanizing worlds of corporate employment and the sex industry. We see people lost in their cubicle worlds, bikini dancers in an Asian club, corpse-like sex dolls in a factory store room and a spectacular performance peice by Olivier de Sagazan (catch a 2008 piece by the man right here). Oh yes, and we’re also forced to meet the unsettling gaze of humanoid robots.

For Stuff to Blow Your Mind listeners out there, this is a film that ventures through familiar philosophic streets. What is technology doing to our humanity? What is our relationship with our food? How will we survive in an increasingly overpopulated world? How can a species capable of such beauty also allow such misery and violence to court its destruction? In this, “Samsara” is pure cinematic mind candy. See it on the big screen if you can.

About the author: Robert Lamb is a senior writer and podcaster at HowStuffWorks, where he co-hosts Stuff to Blow Your Mind with Julie Douglas. He has a love for monsters, an aversion to slugs and a hankering for electronic music.

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