Naqoyqatsi

Godfrey Reggio and Dan Liebsohn in Person
Screening on Film
$12 Special Event Tickets
Directed by Godfrey Reggio.
US, 2002, 35mm, 89 min.
Print source: HFA

While Koyaanisqatsi and Powaqqatsi focus on the social, psychological and spiritual impacts of the evolution of industrial development over the past two centuries, Naqoyqatsi is a reflection on the immense, ongoing transformation of global experience that has culminated in the arrival of digital technologies. The grimmest of the Qatsi films, it was Reggio’s attempt “to have the courage to be hopeless,” as he says today. Fittingly, the formative metaphor of the film is the Tower of Babel, as depicted by Pieter Bruegel the Elder in one of his 1563 paintings of the biblical story—the opening image of Naqoyqatsi. In the story, God sees humanity’s quest to maintain unity and achieve the divine by building a tower to the heavens as a threat, both to the well-being of the earth’s people and to his own dominance, and he foils their plans, scattering them across the continents and frustrating their ability to communicate by forcing them to speak myriad languages. In the world of Naqoyqatsi, viewers are lost in the maze of visual “languages” that have arrived with the panoply of modern technologies dedicated to investigating people, engaging them in meaningless communication, selling them an endless supply of products, distracting them with spectacles, and facilitating their violence against one another. The title’s translation—again revealed only as a conclusion—confirms this: naqoyqatsi means, “1. a life of killing each other. 2. war as a way of life. 3. (interpretation) civilized violence.” Naqoyqatsi evokes various dimensions of our ever-more-virtual world by recycling and refashioning materials from commercial and technological sources. Within the darkness of this virtual “light,” only Philip Glass’s elegant score provides an echo of hope. – Scott MacDonald

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