Baraka (1992)

This film is about everything and nothing at the same time. Its non-narrative approach is so unusual that it will throw you off-balance and force you to think as the images flow before your eyes. The music in Baraka is also worthy of mention. It gives additional emotion to the already poignant visual works of art. In terms of looks, not many movies can claim to be as good as this even if it's already over twenty years old. I'll put it simply. It is a masterpiece.


Behold the artistic power of timelapse.

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If you had less than two hours to explain to a visiting alien species what humanity is all about, how would you do it, given the fact that you can’t speak the same language? Me, I would show them Baraka.

Baraka is pretty much Koyaanisqatsi‘s little step-brother. Both movies are highly similar in looks; understandably so, since Ron Fricke worked on both of them. They are, however, different in the way they express themselves. Whilst Koyaanisqatsi is an aggressive critique, Baraka is calmer and more passive. Koyaanisqatsi is telling you ‘You shouldn’t do this,’ whilst Baraka is saying ‘This is what you are doing.’

Most fans of non-verbal films will either choose Ron Fricke’s Baraka or Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi as their favorite, and they have many good reasons to do so because they are both highly important works that should be seen by any aspiring filmmaker. Both films have been cited as sources of inspiration. Baraka‘s influence, for example, can be seen in Tarsem Singh’s The Fall (which some people might call a Baraka ripoff ) and clips of the doc are even shown on The Architect’s screens in The Matrix: Reloaded as Neo confronts the maker of the virtual world.

One thing that should always be mentioned in a conversation involving Baraka is the high-definition images. Ron Fricke is a cinematographer before a director, and his love for cameras and crystalline visual detail is palpable. Whenever I have the opportunity of showing this film to someone who never heard of it, I always ask them to guess the year of its release after they’re done viewing it. They will always believe this film was made recently, because the quality of Fricke’s film is as good as what’s being made today.

But this movie goes beyond looks. It’s much deeper. It touches a broad number of subjects. Poverty, religion, culture, economy, ecology–I could go on and on. And what’s good with this film is that it never puts labels on what it shows, so you always have some room in your mind for interpretation. This is one of Ron Fricke’s trademarks, and I hope he never changes, because it is highly stimulating.

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As I look at the snow monkeys bathing in hot springs, I wonder if the movie is trying to tell us something. I believe Michael Stearn’s introductory music accompanies this message. Notice the song’s intensity rising, illuminated whenever the monkey closes its eyes. I’m pretty sure this means animals have a distinct way of being one with everything else. It’s just an innate gift to them. Later on, we will see the various ways humans have chosen to connect with a higher spiritual self. Are they trying to attain the same kind of state of inner peace?

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In one of the most unusual scenes of the entire film, we see a group of men performing what is called the Kecak dance in Bali, Indonesia. Until then, we had been hypnotized by the movie’s Zen images, but these guys really kick us out of our trance… And that’s a good thing! They capture our attention so we can focus on the ensuing scenes.

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Interesting. We see various landscapes, a volcano, cloud formations, water, lizards, drawings on rocks and tribesmen. This seems to be a representation of the creation and evolution of life on Earth, don’t you think?

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The movie takes a Koyaanisqatsi path as it demonstrates the cost Nature has to pay for humanity’s desires for continuous growth. So far, we have mostly seen nice, relaxing images, so the reality check is pretty painful at this point.

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Baraka shows overpopulated cities in such an effective manner here. What more can be said? The images of children everywhere are soon replaced by a columbarium filled with so many dead people that you can forget about counting a single aisle.

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The film brilliantly makes comparisons between the way we live and the way we process products. One thing’s for sure: if you can eat chicken right after viewing this movie, you are one heck of a badass. Notice, near the end of this segment, that the cars flowing through the streets look like giant veins. Have we created a monster? I think so.

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If there is a scene every single rich and middle class person should see, it’s this one.

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The film travels from one place to another, this time showing war and its consequences. A few minutes later we see very old temples with carvings representing cruel battles and, ultimately, the fallen civilization of ancient Egypt. Never does the film inject you with Ron Fricke’s thoughts on the subject, although we do get the feeling he has a strong disapproval of violent conflicts.

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India’s famous Ganges river is full of believers who perform all sorts of rituals. It’s such a comforting sight, after all we’ve been through in the last forty minutes or so. The music that plays during this part of the documentary sounds like a thousand rainbows to my ears.

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As we see clouds gathering and producing lighting bolts crashing at the distance, I wonder… Is this how it feels like to be a god? Seriously, how epic can an ending be? What a spectacular finish!

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