Samsara is an interesting film. It doesn’t have characters or plot in the same way most movies seen in a theatre would. Instead, it could simply be described as a collection of shots depicting life in dozens of different countries around the world.
The main characteristic of this film is all through cinematography. In a way, the camera seeing this all is the most prominent character throughout the film. People are constantly staring into the camera in close-ups, and each have their own unsaid meaning behind the way they look at the camera. These people are factory workers in metropolitan cities, indigenous people from various lands, or cultured performers of specific nations.
One important thing the camera witnesses is the rate of change in many of these countries. Whenever the shots take a drastic change in location, the camera sets this up with one or several extreme long shots, panning over cities or deserts or mountains. Often, as the camera pans over a more “industrialized” part of the world, the rate is sped up. Highways become blurs of motion and streets become filled with quick blurs of people. This implies the rate at which the people live their lives here, as none of the shots involving monks or tribal folk have fast shots.
The movie has many messages. Some are obvious, but some are more vague and open to one’s interpretation. Many rituals are performed throughout the film, but without context it can be difficult to describe the purpose of them. Shots like sleeping newborns transitioning to the corpse of an old man are powerful, and it is through moments like this that Samsara really conveys its purpose.
Is it good? Well, I’ll be honest. I fell asleep for a good thirty minutes in the middle of the film. As I said, there’s no characters. No plot. That makes it difficult to really hold onto it. That doesn’t make it bad per-say, because that isn’t the point of the film. It wouldn’t be fair for me to say it’s bad, because my evaluation would be as a writer and storyteller. It would be like saying a lemon is a bad fruit because it isn’t as sweet as most other fruits. Sweetness is simply the wrong way to classify fruit.
That being said, I honestly didn’t enjoy it. My life is more or less characterized by striving for a constant state of productivity, and I felt like I wasted nearly two hours for having watched this. I know that’s because I was watching it with the wrong lens, but that fact doesn’t change the way I did see it.
Samsara is different. It’s not a bad different, but don’t expect engaging storytelling. This movie is about opening up a new perspective on how vastly diverse our modern world is that a conventional movie could never have achieved. It did give me some writing ideas that may or may not ever see the light of day, so in a way, I’m obligated to say that it did a good job. It’s certainly not for everyone, but it is for some people.