Baraka (1992) and Samsara (2011)



Visual documentaries about life and the universe to put our civilization and your individual life into perspective.

I doubted whether I should write blog entries for these movies because I didn’t really know what to say about them. They sort of speak for themselves.

Baraka and Samsara are “documentaries” both by director Ron Fricke, about the state of the world, but they only consist of images, time-lapses and background music, and no narrated lines. So, you can imagine that the experiences associated with these films are slightly different than that of conventional ones.

When I say only images, montages and music, I don’t mean that there is no structure or story in the films. It is the sequences of images that speak for themselves, and you as a viewer observe as one image follows the other and you draw your own conclusions. It is not a puzzle. It is a lengthy repose and meditation of what you are seeing. These movies have the effect of meditation. It is a calming down and replenishing of energy.

So, what are these movies about? I started out with Samsara (2011). The movie sort of tries to cover the total human experience, and humanity’s place in the cosmos. It is also a critique on the modern world on how we got so obsessed about minutiae in the industrial world that we lost sight of grander moral and transcendental perspectives.


It starts out with images of pure raw nature. Exploding volcanoes and water and the like. It is the bedrock of the universe and our environment. The images to go landscapes and are comparable in beauty with the grand sweeping views of BBC nature documentaries like Planet Earth (2006). We move to religious sites where people try to stay in touch with the rhythms of the universe and the transcendental. Now and then, the camera stays focused on a face, and for an uncomfortably long time. It is a strange confrontational feeling to look into another person’s face but if you keep it up, the strange feeling comes that you start to understand the other person.

The camera moves to the modern world, to overpopulation and mass production and all the excesses that mark our modern lives. Think of juxtapositions between chicken farms and Tokyo subways. Then it zooms out again to nature, to religion and the rhythms of the universe.

Baraka (1992) follows loosely the same structure, but is much less clear about any messages besides stark realism. Baraka looks more like a collection of someone’s amazing holiday shots including the good and the troubled parts of the planet. Beautiful, sure. Samsara then could be an updated version of Baraka with more environmental concern added.

Samsara and Baraka make an impact. Every shot is beautiful or shocking in some way, often at the same time. The first half hour you’ll need to adapt to the slower pace. Practice a bit of patience. De-rush! Calm down from your daily life and just let the images slide past. I hope you still have that ability. Remember a moment when you were happy just to stare at your surroundings and be content with it. That is the mindset to approach these movies with. Samsara is the more accessible one because it has the shimmer of structure.

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One Response to Baraka (1992) and Samsara (2011)

  1. Pingback: The Tree of Life (2011) | A Sky of Books and Movies

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