Life Out of Balance

All this week I was planning on writing out a detailed and methodical summary of the specific reasons why insular planning is foolish for acquiescing to technological ingenuity in attempting to solve the predicament of resource depletion and environment change which presently envelops our society.

I abandoned that effort last night because I found it unsatisfying and tedious. I recognized that it failed to convey the underlying sentiment which I seek to communicate to other planners – namely, that technological ingenuity in the form of efficiency and renewable energy cannot maintain our metastatic arrangement of living, regardless of our wishes to the contrary or our insistence that humans are not subject to physical and ecological laws.

Later last night it instinctively occurred to me that perhaps the sentiment I wish to convey could not be transmitted through words. It was then that I revisited Koyaanisqatsi, one of my favorite films.

Koyaanisqatsi is a masterfully-orchestrated tour de force directed by Godfrey Reggio with music composed by Philip Glass and cinematography by Ron Fricke. The film explores the relationship between humans, nature, and technology by marrying arresting time-lapse sequences of cities and natural settings to repetitive and engaging musical arrangements. “Koyaanisqatsi” is a word from the Hopi language meaning roughly “life out of balance” or “a state of life that calls for another way of living”.

Notably, the film features no narration or dialogue – just increasingly dramatic images and music weaved together intricately to relate a commentary of sorts about technology, the state of our world today and humans’ place in it. I say commentary “of sorts” because Reggio is clear that the film’s meaning is open to interpretation; his intent is not to condemn technology but to invite the viewer to consider its role and impact on our lives.

I will offer a few comments. First, a bit of a warning: the film’s time-lapse effects must have been a mind-blowing experience for viewers in 1983, when it was originally released. Since that time, this cinematic style has been ripped off and redone so much that younger and first-time viewers might find it a bit passé. Second, if you aren’t someone who is capable of comprehending symbolism and thinking abstractly you will probably not get a lot out of this film. Third and perhaps most importantly, watch this film alone, without interruption and with some time to reflect upon it afterward.

I find the film simultaneously haunting, hypnotic, sad, contemplative, and invigorating. It says more about technology and hubris than I could ever hope to without every uttering a word, save the chanting of the word “koyaanisqatsi” ominously in the final scene.

I urge you to watch this film. After doing so, I ask you answer me this one question: why is it that we so often embrace new technologies without first considering the costs and consequences of doing so – both to ourselves and nature?

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