The film Koyaanisqatsi (the first of a trilogy) was made in 1982; the film Baraka (made by Koyaanisqatsi’s cinematographer) was made ten years later. There are are series of films that have followed in the same vein; one of the latest is Samsara (2011). The only one I’ve seen in full are Koyaanisqatsi and Baraka, but from the trailers of the other films, it seems that they are cut from the same cloth; absolutely beautiful and with stunning cinematography, and an underlying message that the modern world is just not quite right, and in fact, crazy.
The term ‘Koyaanisqatsi’ is a Hopi word that means ‘life out of balance’, or ‘a state of life that calls for another way of living’, and at the end of the film, a translation of some Hopi prophecies appears:
- “If we dig precious things from the land, we will invite disaster.”
- “Near the day of Purification, there will be cobwebs spun back and forth in the sky.”
- “A container of ashes might one day be thrown from the sky, which could burn the land and boil the oceans.”
Pretty powerful stuff, and it makes you wonder if there is something to prophecy in general (you can easily decipher what some of these things are).
The essential message remains – we are in a world ‘out of balance’. These films do a great job of summing things up; one of the greatest things about them is the lack of dialogue. One of the director’s comments (on Koyaanisqatsi) rings even more true today:
“…it’s not for lack of love of the language that these films have no words. It’s because, from my point of view, our language is in a state of vast humiliation. It no longer describes the world in which we live. If one lives in this world, the globalised world of high technology, all one can see is one layer of commodity piled upon another.”
This fits in with a lot of us in the Peak Everything world have been saying for years; we live in a world that has so surpassed rational thought (if that is possible, for humans to have rational thoughts!) that it is even hard to describe, with most of us being part of this crazy world. Yes, as writers/bloggers/zine publishers, we try our best, but it may be possible that our language can’t contain words for what is happening. A bit ironic, yes, as this is a written piece, but maybe like a two-dimensional shadow of the three-dimensional object, those of us in Flatland (and don’t forget the excellent set of essays on Flatland at Decline of Empire), we can only hint at this higher dimensional issue, which is outside of our monkey brain’s capability to process.
So, where does that leave us?
In re-reading the Flatland essays over at DOTE, there is a video by George Marshall (who wrote Don’t Even Think About It – Why Our Brains Are Wired To Ignore Climate Change), and he mentions “telling new narratives and stories” in order for us to start convincing others of the reality of climate change. It seems that a lot of ink (virtual and otherwise) has been expended in trying to convince people that yeah, things are pretty horrific, and we’d better get our collective asses in gear.
Perhaps films (and ironically, the ones without dialogue, made by beings whose hallmark feature is language) are one way of telling these stories. Our language (and rhetoric of the age) does seem to be broken and unable to communicate reality. I’m not holding my breath. But perhaps it is worth a shot.
- What would you put in your own modern day Koyaanisqatsi film? Pictures of people on their iDevices on the subway? More rockets blowing up (from Elon Musk)? A Steve Jobs or Mark Z presentation?
- In as much I’m allergic to technofixes as JHK is allergic to conspiracy theories – would uber-high-tech things such as direct mind to mind connection capability help transmit these memes, or would we just use them for porn, as we have for all other technologies?
- Are there any other options for helping people understand our predicament?