Koyaanisqatsi (1982) (aka Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance)
Godfrey Reggio

“If we dig precious things from the earth, we will invite disaster”


In 1929, Dziga Vertov came with the amazing Man with a Movie Camera, perhaps the first film of its kind, which served primarily as a showcase of cinema’s abilities and uniqueness. It was just one man’s celebration of his recording instrument and his passion for documenting the world as it is. Larger in scope and execution than Man with a Movie Camera, Koyaanisqatsi (1982) remains an unparalleled movie experience for all film buffs, reminding us once again the magic of the medium.

Koyaanisqatsi is a non-narrative film whose USP remains the phenomenal experience it offers unadulterated by the constraints of story plot and character development. The film starts with paradisiacal images of regions that look like a completely new planet. The imagery slowly takes pace and moves towards “civilization” and subsequently on to the utterly consumerist world of ours. It takes a step back from the bedlam of the world and documents hilariously the things that drive us. The pace intensifies, visibly denoting a impending apocalypse, and culminates in a immortal long shot of a space shuttle slowly meeting its doom.

“Koyaanisqatsi” literally translates to life in chaos or life under imbalance. Watching this movie, one realizes how fast human life passes by and how mundane this technology of ours is. Reggio took six years to make this film. The locations for the shoot range from the hearts of advanced civilization to paradises that mankind hasn’t set foot on. The Time-Lapse technique is used extensively along with doses of slow motion as if to take time to enjoy nature and moments of humanity or ponder over what man has done to it. At the end of it all, you understand how human life has become so mechanized, much like the conveyor technology it dwells on.

There are not many films that urge the audience to get involved and direct the course of the film. The audience is made into puppets whose emotions are controlled by the strings attached to the director’s whims. Yes, the films from and inspired by the French New Wave and from other visionary directors did provide the independence to the viewers to make their own judgments. Still, these films elicited the same kind of empathy from a large section of the audience. Koyaanisqatsi takes the meaning of independent viewing to a whole new level, with the film achieving form as decided by the viewers. Hence the film becomes a unique experience for each viewer and differing largely from others’.

Ron Fricke, who went on to make more non-narrative films such as Baraka (1992), captures the might of the macro as well as the awe of the micro with such care that one must be numb not to appreciate it. If it was the fantastic imagery for the eyes, it is Philip Glass’ spectacular score that treats the ears. The chants of the Hopi language, that literally translate to texts that stress on how man should respect nature and the consequences of not abiding by the same, complement the high-tempo rhythmic music as a result providing the perfect cadence of moments that will be etched in the minds of the viewers for ever.

One can either get involved wit the deluge of images from the screen and interpret them intellectually and try to form a meaningful narrative film out of them or just sit back and get immersed in the visual feast concocted using the technical wizardry. Either way, Koyaanisqatsi will remain a fresh film every time one watches it. The viewing experience will be an entirely new one and so will be the meaning one derives out of the film. Don’t miss this gem.