Have you ever been at a party and found a stranger a particularly compelling speaker? They’re mounting an argument, and their eloquence is both engaging and convincing. But just when you’re totally in their corner, they reveal that they’re not who they seemed to be – what seemed like satirical wit is revealed as unfortunate extremism, or some borderline-inappropriate humour surpasses borderline. Suddenly you’re questioning why you took them seriously in the first place.
That’s how Koyaanisqatsi hit me. The wordless, plotless film is consistently gorgeous, and it’s nigh impossible to describe the intoxicating combination of its photography and Phillip Glass score without using the word ‘hypnotic.’ But while its proponents may claim it’s ambiguous, it’s hard to miss the blatant, anti-technology environmentalism.
Koyaanisqatsi builds meaning through transposition. This is often effective: eg cutting from an assembly line of hot dogs to queues of people streaming down escalators. But the film revels in unsubtlety, cutting from mining explosions to nuclear explosions to bathers by a nuclear power plant, all the while jabbing a stubby finger and asking, “GET IT?” In case you didn’t, the film concludes with quotes including, “If we dig precious things from the land, we will invite disaster.”