As the musician and activist Kathy Mattea once sagely observed: ‘That’s the great paradox of living on this earth, that in the midst of great pain you can have great joy as well’.
Nowhere have I observed this paradox played out with such thought-provoking beauty and profundity than in the experimental non-narrative documentary by Ron Fricke entitled ‘Baraka’. Fricke’s extended cinematographic meditation explores themes via a mesmeric compilation of nature, everyday life and human activity shot in twenty-four countries on six continents over a fourteen month period.
The existential paradox is presented through poignant images of grinding poverty, monotonous work, factory farming, prostitution, economic exploitation, pollution and the crushing of individuality. The contrast with the beauty of creation, the peace of meditation, thoughtfulness and self-transcendence tells its own story. It is at this level of transcendence, whether it is expressed through the world’s major religions or philosophies, or through some other means, that humanity comes alive and radiates beauty and hope.
I find myself drawn to watch and meditate on the message of ‘Baraka’ when I am in reflective mood. Like any good film though, each time I watch it I see something new and emerge with a different perspective. Notwithstanding that ever-changing landscape, as I watch, I consistently turn over in my mind those very famous words Thomas Merton uttered during his ‘Louisville Epiphany’:
‘Yesterday, in Louisville, at the corner of 4th and Walnut, suddenly realized that I loved all the people and that none of them were, or, could be totally alien to me. As if waking from a dream — the dream of separateness, of the “special” vocation to be different. My vocation does not really make me different from the rest of men or put me is a special category except artificially, juridically. I am still a member of the human race — and what more glorious destiny is there for man, since the Word was made flesh and became, too, a member of the Human Race!
Thank God! Thank God! I am only another member of the human race, like all the rest of them. I have the immense joy of being a man! As if the sorrows of our condition could really matter, once we begin to realize who and what we are — as if we could ever begin to realize it on earth’.
Merton, in his epiphany, calls on us all to explore our radical interconnectedness and to reflect on what it means to be human. Intriguingly, ‘Baraka’ does just that too, although this time through the highly effective medium of film.
I’d highly recommend ‘Baraka’. Once you’ve watched it once you’ll almost certainly want to watch it again….and again!
In the meantime, you can watch the official trailer here (and you can also view the entire film courtesy of Youtube):