Directed and photographed by Ron Fricke and produced by Mark Magidson, SAMSARA is a nonverbal poem exposing where we are heading as a species if we continue to spiritually disconnect from nature. Filmed over a period of 5 years, in 25 countries, and 5 continents, the film exposes the reality of our deep separation with nature and the causes and effects of things we often take for granted. The Sanskrit word SAMSARA means “the ever turning wheel of life” or the circle of nature and the continuous flow of life on Earth. In the first three frames of the documentary, we see shots representing the repeating cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth with Balinese dancers, followed by fiery volcanic lava, a fetus inside of the womb, a mummified old person, and finally an Egyptian pharaoh’s death mask.
Following the opening frame we see Buddhist monks in Tibet carefully creating a sand mandala on the floor of their monastery. In Buddhism, a sand mandala is a geometric painting made out of colored sand assembled over a long period of time and then destroyed once finished. This tradition and this scene marks the theme of the film, impermanence. The human life embodies this concept when we age during the cycle of repeated birth and death (Samsara). Nothing lasts, and everything decays- our 6th mass extinction.
As you become mesmerized during the film, you quickly realize it is primarily focused on the natural world and how we live in it. We see shots of abandoned buildings and homes after Hurricane Katrina ripped through New Orleans reminding us of that our dominion over this Earth is short-lived and unethical.
Fricke uses various contrasting shots from barren landscapes and sacred grounds to overpopulated cities such as LA and Tokyo. For me, one of Fricke's most distressing shots exposes the detailed farms and slaughterhouses of the meat processing industry (Fricke and Magidson were prohibited from shooting the food sequences in the US, turning to China instead). We sit through processed animals on production lines followed by scenes of our over consumption and mass consumerism in US supermarkets, eventually leading to the number one cause of death in America, obesity. Factories throwing away consumer products either recycled or picked up by desperate poor children scavenging through landfills unveils our major global waste problem.
Although the film crudely exposes us to these troubling issues around the world awakening and shaking up our mainstream society, it ends with enlightening us of the importance of returning to nature reminding us that we are all part of this massive circle. Each individuals' action and inaction matters and every single being on this Earth plays a part on this Wheel of Life as Ron Fricke calls it.