Baraka

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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.

5 thoughts on “Baraka

  1. I sort of think I ad­dressed that when I said we’re too busy try­ing to get peo­ple to pay at­ten­tion to our­selves to pay at­ten­tion to oth­er peo­ple, but I guess I didn’t hit hard enough on that…

    I sup­pose I shouldn’t have said “every­thing.”

    Why are you un­will­ing to say what you think about the movie?

  2. yeah…i think i might be that some­one to write the ex­act op­po­site. one of my friends brought it for me to watch and he was ec­sta­t­ic over it. i was a bit hes­i­tant to give it a chance, con­sid­er­ing it would nev­er live up to the the build up.
    i did not jump up and down over it as he near­ly did, but there was quite a peace­ful­ness that gath­ered with­in me while watch­ing it. it seemed very meditative…a feel­ing i ‘used’ to get as a child dur­ing mass. in­ter­est­ing that you felt de­spair. how ‘neat’ that films af­fect peo­ple in such dif­fer­ent ways. but yes, if i were one to write re­views, i would. and dis­agree i would. but i’m not a re­view­er. i just write songs. 😉

  3. “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].”

    Which of the­se were the peo­ple dig­ging through garbage and mak­ing cig­a­rettes do­ing?

    I love this film, and far be it from me to say that any­one missed the point of any­thing, but I think you missed the point. 

    Now you’ll ask: “What’s the point, then?” I won’t re­spond.

  4. Baraka is a film of man’s place in the uni­verse as he or she is re­strict­ed by liv­ing on­ly in a ge­o­graph­i­cal lo­ca­tion, time and cul­ture of his own. Only the mind of man in its eth­i­cal and spir­i­tu­al quest can tran­scend this lim­i­ta­tion of phys­i­cal re­stric­tions. And in that in­ter­minable space of vast thought, he finds his sad­ness by rec­og­niz­ing the lim­it­ed ex­trem­i­ties of his mind and of him­self. In that, the most prim­i­tive and the most tech­no­log­i­cal­ly ad­vanced man, hu­mans and an­i­mals such as chick­ens in tread­mill or peo­ple get­ting off the sub­way lose all dis­tinc­tions. Baraka is glo­ri­ous­ly a sad movie.

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