Naqoyqatsi (2002)


(director/writer: Godfrey Reggio; screenwriter: Philip Glass; cinematographer: Russell Fine; editor: Bill Morrison; music: Philip Glass; Runtime: 80; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Godfrey Reggio/Joe Beirne; Miramax; 2002)

The collected sum of the images equal a work of kitsch art.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Naqoyqatsi is taken from the Hopi language and translates as “war as a way of life” or “a life of killing each other,” or “civilized violence.” Filmmaker, philosopher, monk and activist Godfrey Reggio completes the wordless travelogue ecological-documentary trilogy he began in 1983 with Koyaanisqatsi and Powaqqatsi in 1988. This one is a visually striking but nevertheless an empty look at the impact of technology on the world and how high-tech has become perilously linked to everyday life. Technology highlights the impersonal and leaves mankind dependent on corporations or governments to keep him supplied with his technology fix, which is the reason for the film’s doomsday outlook. The film travels the globalized world to try and blow you away with so many images, but since they are all so stagnant it fails to reach the guts.

It opens with a reproduction of M. C. Escher’s The Tower of Babel looking out at a devastated landscape and proceeds to a series of digitally doctored clips taken from such places as film archives, TV broadcasts, and the Internet. There are just so many montages from religious symbols to the stock market ticker, that it seems everything was thrown into the pot without much thought of how the stew would turn out.

For a supposed trippy film, this one is a dud. Acid heads won’t be able to count on these ordinary images or the throbbing and hypnotizing Philip Glass New Age score (with cello solos by Yo-Yo Ma) to get off into the Timothy Leary stratospheres, as nothing in this film is happening. Though Glass’ music has a good mixture of tech rock and electrical synthesizer scores, it is not enough to get one off. Too many images of the prosaic from the Statue of Liberty to West Point cadets marching to muscular Olympic athletes in competition to hold one’s interest, as it looked like just another TV commercial rather than something mind-bending. World leaders are shown as wax replicas from Madame Tussaud’s, while test dummies representing the common man bounce around in slo-mo. A facile message rings hollow about how civilized life has been ruined by a culture and consumerism that is always keeping us in an aggressively warlike state. The implication being that war is inevitable in the evolutionary process. The message might be correct but the delivery wasn’t executed in a compelling way. It seems this film is kept afloat by its own self-importance and pretensions. It was more like crapola than an inspiring musical video. I didn’t feel the inner peace I should have. Taking a gander at a smiling President Bush 11 and a sneering Osama bin Laden does nothing for my imagination. The collected sum of the images equal a work of kitsch art, one that zeroes around its targeted subject matter rather than hits the bull’s eye.