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Monday, August 9, 2010

Review: The Nature of Existence

The Nature of Existence.
(c) Roger Nygard, Blink, Inc.
Yesterday I saw the documentary film, The Nature of Existence, by Roger Nygard. Nygard is the filmmaker who was previously known for his documentary, Trekkies and has also directed some episodes of major television shows. In this one, a wide variety of people from around the world are interviewed on their thoughts about, well, the nature of existence.

The format followed a common technique in these kinds of documentaries; a process whereby the editor takes all of these various conversations (about 450 hours of footage) and chops them into bits and pieces, categorized by subject. In the opening, it's a little jarring and confusing as we see a number of people we don't know (and some we might happen to know) saying various contradictory things about why we exist, without any context. Then, after we see the segue ways into the different segments, and people we've been seeing are introduced, the structure starts to make more sense. The format seems to have been created to keep those with very low attention spans interested, but still runs about 10-15 minutes too long.

One of the film's strengths is it's emotional palette, which ranges from thoughtful, to sad, to ironic, to funny. The best line in the film comes from a self-defined "confrontational evangelist" who yells in a public forum, "All you vagina lickers are going straight to Hell, lickadee split!"  Additional bonus points go to Nygard for mentioning the place where I once experienced the best barbecue of my life - the restaurant run by the New Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Huntsville, Texas.

I wanted to devote more of my review to the ideas presented in the film, but they are so choppy and cursory that there isn't much to discuss that one couldn't get by reading the opening sentence of the Wikipedia articles for each of the belief systems shown. Only a very short time into the film it becomes obvious that we aren't going to be getting any definitive answers to Nygard's profound questions. The whole treatment is fairly shallow, but its breadth is good for stimulating thought, ideas, and further discussion afterward.

After the film, in the lobby, I overheard one woman saying that she thought the film would be good for those people who stop and question things, but for the "masses" who never do it wouldn't be entertaining. With its broad but shallow format that only seeks to inspire in its viewer more and more questions, I could believe it was made with this view - that the masses need to be stimulated to question things. In reality, I'm not sure I've ever met a member of these mythical "masses" who supposedly never question the meaning of existence. I think that may be something some people tell themselves to feel spiritually elite. Maybe if we listened more to the people who we dismiss as common, we'd find out that they really do think more about these things than we give them credit for, even if they may have chosen to answer those questions in a way we don't care for. I suspect the average farmer, plumber, and homemaker have thought more about the meaning of existence than the depth this film's material reach. Nevertheless, the aim of the film was noble, and I'd recommend it for anyone looking for a good kick-start for discussion among young people on deep topics.

The Nature of Existence is playing now at Angelika Theater in Houston, Texas.
Official Website
Angelika Theater

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