Koyaanisqatsi (1982)

I’ve never seen a film like “Koyaanisqatsi”. It is pure cinematic poetry, a film composed entirely of montage, inviting viewers to interpret theme out of their reading of the visuals and the structure they’re presented in, rather than directly present any message. I found the film eminently moving.

The film does give some indication as to director Godfrey Reggio’s interpretation through the title and a card at the end declaring “Koyaanisqatsi – Life out of Balance”. Interpreting the film as presenting a world peaceful in natural order, beautiful and glorious, then the present human world of technology as imbalanced, messy, and destructive. I personally find that a tad reductive. There are montages of glory in the human section too, and seeing human society’s actions broadly doesn’t need to be viewed as disturbing or frenetic in the animal-like bustle, but also impressive and inspiring as the triumph of a collective. Is the stunning highway sequence an indication of an unbalanced world rushing for little reason, or a marvellous display of human invention and harmony (nobody is crashing after all, they are moving in sequence!)? Of course, it can be interpreted either way, or a measured acceptance of both. I prefer to view the film as presenting the world as it was and as it is, both the good and the bad, but I understand the more one-sided readings.

Phillip Glass’ soundtrack is incredible; it truly is half the film. It is a wild avant-garde ride, at times swelling in apocalyptic chanting, and at other times bouncing with energetic synthesisers. It, coupled with Reggio’s beautiful cinematography (what else could the film be, when it is composed entirely of telling a story through imagery?), forms one of the most impressive unions of image and sound in cinema that I have ever seen. The time-lapsed footage and aerial shots allow us to view the human experience at a macroscopic level, and the music adds a level of beauty and coherency to the montage that may have been lost otherwise. The film feels more a symphony than a conventional cinematic story.

“Koyaanisqatsi” is pure cinema and of my absolutely favourite films. My one critique would be that I feel the film would be stronger by maintaining it’s thematic vagueness and thus better allowing for freer audience interpretation, by omitting the title card at the end with the translation of the title.

I give it five demolished buildings, and an exploding rocket.


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