Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson’s Samsara (2011) is a documentary that chronicles what I would like to term the “choreography of life.” Unlike virtually all other documentaries, there are no spoken words, no traditional narration. But, the “music” track is beautiful. (Some of the track, such as the Islamic Prayers “sounds” like music but isn’t, technically or culturally.) Before going further, please take a minute to view the trailer below:
the cycle of death and rebirth to which life in the material world is bound.
In Samsara, viewers get an intimate look at how much two-legged Homo sapiens have in common. Through the process of creating, eating, fighting, playing, surviving, working, worshiping, they express and reflect profound hopes and fears. Yet, Homo sapiens live in very different words, depending on where they live.
Homo sapiens, Samsara shows, are beautiful, cruel, mysterious, and irrational, sometimes all at the same time. Homo sapiens torture themselves and others in hopes of achieving some kind of acknowledgment, be it in this world or another world. Homo sapiens have profoundly altered the Earth, a predator that threatens all life. Homo sapiens are very prone to the ritual and the myth and the choreography.
By “choreography of life,” I want to draw attention to the ways in which everyday life is so throughly “choreographed” by a whole host of geographies, peoples, and cultural/social institutions. (We should, for sure, allow for human agency, too, but that’s another conversation.) While watching Samsara that is what kept coming to mind.
This film shows example after example of highly performative choreographed rituals at places where they worship but also where they work and live. We move and operate without necessarily thinking independently or even knowing exactly what we are doing. Forget about why, humans don’t even know what they are doing–doing themselves and doing to others–really doing. Mores and rituals and institutions mesh all together, along with geography, to determine how our lives are choreographed. Choreographed such that nothing gets too unstable. Choreographed to know our place and to teach and to entertain and to be trained. Such choreographies of life can be read from the vantage point of any geographic scope–from a town, to a region, to the planet–and they sync together in surprising ways.
Other thoughts this film prompts: We don’t know our larger place in the circle of life. For many of us in wealthy nations, our everyday life is very throughly divorced from all of the things we use. We essentially don’t know anything about how our beds, cars, computers, couches, foodstuffs*, ovens, or anything else came to be–from when it was “raw chemicals” to the finished product. The choreography of our “post-industrial” lives prevents us from being fully connected to our life.
(*Added 7/18/2017 – I just learned about the term “locavore” from Guntash’s blog – check it out. The basic idea is that we’re no longer locavores and this has important implications when thinking about Food Studies, History, etc.)
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Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda