Baraka, a Sufi word somewhere in the neighborhood of “blessing” is vested with just about as much meaning as arête. So when I checked out Baraka [tons of screenshots] from the library, I expected a complicated movie. It is complicated in the fact that it is and isn’t complicated.
The cinematography is wicked awesome, and if the film seems a bit too smitten with “look at the strange foreigners“ness, the overall point seems to be universal. I believe the film is meant to serve a political function as a wake-up call, and a challenge for responsibility. We see cigarettes being made in sweatshops, fluffy yellow chicks getting their beaks fried, and the Kuwaiti oil field fires of Gulf War I. We see the glories and vastnesses of both earth and sky and space, and throughout we see strangers going about their business.
And their business, our business as a species, seems to be getting noticed, having attention paid to us. Or at the very least, making ourselves feel that attention is being paid to us. Whatever it takes to not feel insignificant. Everything we see humans doing in Baraka seems to be focused on getting our gods to love us [religious ceremonies] or being as successful as possible as a convoluted means to having other people notice us [city life] or doing something “permanent”, leaving a legacy behind [ruins, strip mines, oil fires]. Whatever it takes. Whatever it takes.
And apparently we keep missing the obvious. We are the ones who have to pay attention to others. Throughout the film the only people who seem completely secure within their selves are children. Children tend to pay more attention to their world than to their selves. There is a Zen monk who also seems secure in his own being, but he sits immobile through the whole movie. His meditation takes on a pitiful air, it takes all of his being to accept his insignificance, whereas the children find all things equally significant, and can move and act while they are at it.
I don’t know why the film is called Baraka, unless it is irony. It is subtly secular and liberal, which aren’t bad things. But they might get turned a bit sinister when bound up with the despair and good-olé days fallacious nostalgia and somewhat touristy feel that also fill the film. It seems that many people find this film inspiring, but it made me a bit sad. Thankfully, it is ambiguous enough that someone could easily write the exact opposite review to the one I just wrote.