Nearly 40 years since its release, there’s still nothing quite like Koyaanisqatsi. An hour-and-a-half long meditation on men and nature, this experimental documentary goes into different places: from the vast mountains and waterfalls to machine-powered factories and crowd-filled streets.
Its title means “life out of balance”, reflecting on how the world has drastically changed with the emergence of technology. The film, which features neither dialogue nor a character that we follow, opens with a montage of beautiful open skies and natural landscapes before slowly being abrupted with a long sequence of present-day humanity that moves and operates with technology.
The fact that Koyaanisqatsi was released in 1982 is very telling of how the film’s themes and message continue to resonate up to this day. You can create the movie today and still not losing its relevance.
When asked about the creative decision of featuring no dialogue other than the repeated chant of “Koyaanisqatsi” throughout the movie, director Godfrey Reggio replied, “it’s not for lack of love of the language that these films have no words.”
“It’s because, from my point of view, our language is in a state of vast humiliation. It no longer describes the world in which we live.”
Koyaanisqatsi, with its unconventional approach, manages to create a powerful effect with its stellar score by Philip Glass, who greatly aided Ron Fricke’s astonishing cinematography. Glass’ music for the movie feels like something is on the brink of finality that spirals into even greater dangers.
Koyaanisqatsi can be a difficult endorsement for people casually looking for a film to watch over the evening, but it can be a transcendent experience if you allow it. Trust the movie. It does take a while to properly flow through you.
As for people who wants to dive deeper into the world of Koyaanisqatsi, it’s important to note that Reggio has developed two sequels Powaqqatsi (1988) and Naqoyqatsi (2002) to form the Qatsi trilogy (English translation: “Life” trilogy), which is mostly centered on bridging the chaotic nature of today’s humanity with its peaceful past.