Baraka

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Bara­ka, a Sufi word some­where in the neigh­bor­hood of “bless­ing” is vest­ed with just about as much mean­ing as arete. 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-ole 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.