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Koyaanisqatsi More at IMDbPro »

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Beautiful and Hypnotic Tale About an Unbalanced Life

Author: Rodrigo Amaro ( from São Paulo, Brazil
13 November 2010

"Koyaanisqatsi" is the first installment of a trilogy about life versus progress and associated things directed by the great Godfrey Reggio, without using words, dialogs and with no plot. This a documentary filled with beautiful images, sometimes impressively strange but very real, synchronized with the marvelous music composed by Philip Glass.

Koyaanisqatsi is a Hopi Indian term that means "life out of balance" and what we see in this film is thousands of images of the world as we know it and throughout them we are invited to take a meditation about their meaning. In the first 15 minutes all we see is the real nature, trees, oceans, deserts, everything untouched by the human being, at peace, quiet. When bombs start to explode throwing away lots of dirt of a mine and a haunting truck appears that peaceful world seemed to change. And then technology appears, many good and bad things start to happen leaving our life less hard sometimes but totally out of balance, stressed, unfulfilled, empty, desperate. And all of that is captured by the director who uses slow motion images, fast images that resembles a video clip (Grace Jones and The Strokes used images from this film to include in their works), all presented beautifully and in great symmetry with Philip Glass's music.

I'll leave these thoughts and opinions with you but whatever the view you'll have on this film is valid. The best thing you can do is just sit back, watch, enjoy and think about it. Reggio trained to be a monk and spent 14 years in complete silence and praying and when he finally left this condition he was able to make this wonderful film and its sequels, therefore, here's a man who understands that films don't necessary needs dialogs and a plot to show a message, and he's krafty enough to give that to audiences (of course, not if you consider the same audiences that enjoy slapstick comedies or action films, they'll probably hate this movie).

And we must consider that besides Kubrick's experience in some chapters of "2001: A Space Odyssey" this is a pioneering experience back in the 1980's, telling something beyond narrative, almost wordless (the only voices you'll hear comes from the choir singing in Glass's musics and the word "Koyaanisqatsi" also presented in the music). It is very hypnotizing and incredible. And despite being made in 1982 (actually more longer considering that the project begun in 1977) it's not a dated film and it's very plausible for any generation.

For those who enjoy new filmmaking experiences this is a must see and watch the sequels "Powaqqatsi" (1988) and "Naqoyqatsi" (2002) (which I also reviewed). I believe that Reggio and Glass should re-team for a fourth installment due to a common and recurring theme of our days that is well discussed: the global warming effects in our society caused by the evolution of societies and the technology. The director could go back to the same places he filmed in "Koyaanisqatsi" and other places too and show how things got worse and we as audience could make an comparison between society and different times, to have a new perspective on things and to proof (again) that evolution also comes to destroy mankind while we're still getting on our positive way, taking one step ahead and walking back another ten steps.

At the end of the film there's the Hopi prophecy and one of the things it is said there is this: "If we dig precious things from the land, we will invite disaster. Near the Day of Purification, there will be cobwebs spun back and forth in the sky. A container of ashes might one day be thrown from the sky, which could burn the land and boil the oceans." How close are we of this scenario? 10/10

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An astonishing movie

Author: patf-3 from SF East Bay, CA, US.
6 September 2010

Several generations - world-wide - have come to think in terms of the images that this film created, and, as is so often the case, they're mostly unaware of it.

Thinking in terms of an image is not a contradiction.


Actually, that's all, at least at the moment, that I was inspired to write, however IMDb's auto-editing (which for the most part I'm impressed with) tells me that posts must be a minimum of 10 lines.

One could write almost endlessly about Koyaanisqatsi and there must be PHD theses devoted to the subject. It's interesting to consider that many words have (probably) been devoted to a film with no words. Part of the wonder.

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Wow, what can I say?

Author: mkm-hermanjnr from United Kingdom
3 September 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I'm usually not a big fan of "arty" films, and while I consider myself environmentally thoughtful, I also detest being bombarded with long "eco-lectures".

This film doesn't lecture, it doesn't preach, and it isn't pretentious. It just poses fascinating questions and really provokes some interesting questions.

While we see plenty of nature and the opposite industrial expansion of man, especially early on, the film features no dialogue.

There is no disembodied voice ranting about CO2 emissions, or strip mining. No voice actor is telling us to feel bad. We are left to judge for ourselves what we believe is acceptable use of the environment, and the film celebrates the achievements of man as much as it criticises them.

The film travels through many different emotions as the scenes change. In some a sense of awe is given, in others we see daily scenes of life at much greater than normal speed. Watching countless people march to work and go home again at breakneck speed, and cars being infinitely assembled on a line raises so many questions I never usually pause to think of.

What's the goal of humanity? Beyond cash, why do attend jobs as we do? Why does society exist as it does? One scene showed a homeless man struggling to count change in his hand, and as he sadly looked at the camera, I wondered how his life had become like that.

Towards the end of the film, there is a strangely poignant moment as a broken rocket crumbles to Earth like a fiery meteor. Complemented by a soundtrack that fits perfectly, it seems to spiral downwards forever, a moment that inexplicably sends shivers down my spine.

I highly recommend this film, it is intriguing even for it's unusual filmography. When you start musing about the themes it poses, it gets even better, and yet it manages to avoid telling you what to think.

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talking about Nostradamus

Author: Jimmy Tosnia from Brazil
26 June 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The best example of Hollywood smartness. I saw Koyaanisqatsi 30 times before get the obvious: this is all about 9/11 event.

I have to say that seeing the United Airline plane scenes and seeing the buildings falling down... had a profound effect on me. This movie makes Nostradamus looks like he wasn't even in kindergarten. It served to remind me of the main theme of the film, that the world of humans is overlaying nature, and that our world is out of balance. Some times viruses (terrorism) are the wild variables in a system that can destroy it and return things to balance.

Hollywood is many things... but stupid is not one of them.

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Author: Neil Welch from United Kingdom
21 March 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

We have become so used to films conforming to convention that it is difficult for us to take on board one which insists on not doing so.

Koyaanisqatsi is an exercise in sensory input, a free-form essay in image and sound, a dialectic on pattern and repetition, or none of these things (or all of them). What it is not is a film with any kind of narrative flow in the conventional sense, whether fictional or documentary.

It is obviously intended to carry a message, even if only by virtue of the title and its end credit translation. As Reggio suggests, it is up to the viewer what he takes from it. I didn't take any message as such (at least, none that I hadn't already taken from from elsewhere). But I was able to allow myself to be immersed in it - the often striking images, the insistent, textured music which complements and informs what you see.

There are some people who will not be open to it (my father for one) but, if you think you could accept a film which comprises images, music, and no narrative, then it is worth a visit.

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... watch God's creation be destroyed before you even as it recreates itself...

Author: divinemediocrity from United States
21 April 2007

It's not for everyone, this production. It's kind of hokey, in a way; at the same time, it holds a poignancy that so few movies nowadays even graze... creation is by no means a new discovery, and this production aides in the demonstration of the aforementioned idea. The earth never needed any help during creation; the creative pendulum was set into motion long before man; ever swing to is succeeded by one fro. And yet humanity felt the need to "create" along-side God... in turn, it created koyaanisqatsi... a life out of balance. A sobering and eloquent comment on the physical world that surrounds us all... it would by no means hurt anything but your pride to watch this movie.

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A transcendental movie

Author: andre mattos from Brazil
7 September 2006

This film is just too much. It's the perfect combination of art and spirituality. It's not an ecological movie, it's rather a reflection on nature's patterns and human patterns. Although one must be in the correct mood to watch it, it is a must. Once more I'd like to point out the wonderful match between music and image. Probably it is the best of the trilogy, although Naqoyqatsi is also very good. Koyaanisqatsi has it's own language, it's own syntax. The altered image speed lead to a new possibility of apprehension, a possibility for rediscovery of what we see everyday versus our origin, which is Earth. This movie is a human accomplishment!

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A visual psychology test.

Author: highkite from Canada
24 June 2006

---pronounced: koh-yah-nees-kahtsi---

This is simply an amazing art film. Though many would agree that "Koyaanisqatsi" is a general resemblance of "2001: A Space Odyssey," the movie finds that same audience but conveys a chilling message while presenting beautiful and symbolic images about the world. Beautifully directed, and simply breathtaking, "Koyaanisqatsi" sucks you into our real world and depicts a very realistic yet haunting idea about where we're going and how we're getting there.

"Koyaanisqatsi" is about the world. Like Kubrick's classic "2001: A Space Odyssey," it has three sections: nature, humans, and technology. And while "2001.." uses actors and manipulated sets to present the message, "Koyaanisqatsi" plays like a documentary. It shows documented footage of everything it's trying to convey: from the birth of the earth (mountains and nature slowly moving, then moving into a rapid pace), to humans operating machines to help destroy nature, and finally technology being substituted for humans. Everything in the movie is real, which makes the message of it all the more creepy and realistic.

The directing is without a doubt flawless. To endure 6 years making a film like this, and using genius camera effects to enhance the feeling of the message, is in my eyes true film-making. Godfrey Reggio, in his directorial debut, presents to the audience a visually stunning roller-coaster. His vision into the idea that "life is out of balance" is terrifyingly real and beautifully captured.

Each scene in the movie is taken with such perfection and insight, such delicate reasoning and visual arousal, it almost seems surreal. The stunning score by Philip Glass (nominated later for the Score in "The Hours") is as chilling as the images shown. The creepy yet memorable theme of the chanting "koyaanisqatsi" phrase is both inventive and presentable. The editing has got to be one of the best ever put on the screen. Each scene juxtaposes the previous and next scene, and is carefully crafted to symbolize the transition between the three aforementioned segments.

While featuring no dialogue and no characters, "Koyaanisqatsi" finds a way to communicate. Through vision. Our brains get manipulated by every single 'sentence' this movie visually speaks. From the bizarre beginning up to the shocking climax, "Koyaanisqatsi" speaks the truth. It shows us that humans and technology cannot live together to the extent at which we are growing into. It shows us that war is caused by humans and technology, and that we ruin the beautiful planet once inhabited by nature.

The fact that the movie is chanted in the ancient extinct language Hopi only adds to the terror of humans forgetting their true origins and destroying what we once had. "Koyaanisqatsi" is definitely not a movie for everyone, since it follows absolutely no formula a typical Hollywood film would have. Reggio shows us that you can make a movie both unique and brilliant while suggesting an immensely deep idea about the world we all live in.

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Author: eclipsejld from Ft. Worth, Texas
11 May 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This film was one of the most astounding films that this viewer has ever seen. With its breath taking scenes of the landscapes of Earth, to its hustle and bustle of traffic and normal people going about their daily lives. Its message is blared throughout, and obviously it shows that to get a message across, one doesn't have to speak to be heard.Francis ford Coppola himself made a cameo in this film and although this viewer didn't recognize him, upon researching the Internet Movie Database, or more commonly called "IMDb," under the trivia section of this movies main page it is referenced that he is seen going into the elevator which, as many great directors or in this case producers are prone to make themselves a part of the movie as a way of showing that they are normal people, and that making a movie of this magnitude doesn't "upstage" them in any way.

This movie was filmed obviously in and objective manner, leaving no one human higher than another. It also points out how small we really are, and that we mean so little in this gigantic world. The symbolism used in this movie is altogether amazing in that humans are once compared to an assembly line of hot dogs, which is one of the humorous yet serious symbols issued to the viewer. The message, according to this viewer is simply this; continue to live as you would normally, creating weapons of mass destruction and chaos, and soon you will be living in what you destroy. The film's name is even subject to its message, the Hopi word "Koyaanisqatsi, which in English means "crazy life,"(IMDb) basically lays down the entire movie, so if you understand a Native American language then you already know what to expect from this film. This viewer would like to thank director Godfrey Reggio for creating this amazing masterpiece, and Mr. Francis Ford Coppola for producing this truly emotional movie, which in this viewers' opinion should be viewed by every single person so that its message can be heard by everyone.

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The 30 Greatest Films Ever Made, Continued

Author: anonymous124 from United States
11 March 2006

(part of 30 comments I'm writing on the 30 best films ever made. They are written in no specific order)

The simplest and best thing about Koyaanisqatsi (Hopi dialect for "Chaos" or "Life out of Balance") is that there is not a single word spoken throughout the entire film. The critic Roger Ebert (of "Siskel and Ebert", also only critic to win Pulitzer prize for film criticism) wrote a bizarre review in which he only gave it three stars because of a bunch of opinions he believed Reggio held (like, "it would be better if there wasn't man at all") that he felt were silly. But these are opinions that couldn't possibly be expressed without words. Koyaanisqatsi is much simpler than that - it shows, through a series of images, a world before man, quiet, slow, and beautiful. Then modern times rushes in, an incredibly fast paced, crazy marathon of people that seem never to stop. I have to criticize Ebert again, who complains that if the film is trying to show a bad portrait of mankind, then why are the images of the cities beautiful as well. Reading this, one has to ask "But where, Roger, did you decide this film was trying to show a bad portrait of mankind? You're contradicting yourself." Yes, the destruction of nature is horrifying, but Reggio also allows us to look at some beautiful aspect of the cities too, like the reflection of the sky on the polished windows. There are numerous shots looking down on sprawling city streets at nighttime, sped up incredibly fast so you see cars shooting down the the road, briefly stopping at red lights where other cars fly by them, and start up and fly forward again. I am reminded of the old middle school videos taken from microscopes where you see little organisms shooting around pointlessly. Where, exactly, are they trying to get to? Koyaanisqatsi is not, as Ebert suggests, a film about how mankind is evil, but just simply a warning. The film shows us the past, and the present, and eventually the future, leaving us a warning that if we continue in the direction we are going, getting faster and faster, things must just explode, a Herzog like prediction that if we continue our rampage against nature, then it will destroy us to return to the beginning.

Many of the images involve shots that are sped up or slowed down to show stunning beauty that we wouldn't be able to see with our own eyes. "Through God's eyes" we see the shadows of clouds painting the dusty landscapes, a "waterfall" of clouds that fall down the side of a mountain, a shot mounted on a car as it speeds down a highway, sped up nearly 20X as fast. And impossibly high shot flying over New York City. Numerous shots of buildings being demolished. A nuclear weapon being tested in a southwestern desert. A room of T.V.s exploding in slow motion. Bridges being demolished. Huge, foreboding telephone line towers making cage like cobwebs over the landscape. Even with some of the most beautiful images caught on camera, the film would be nothing without the score of the wonderful Phillip Glass, who here has written perhaps the best soundtrack of all time. The before man sequence is slow, repetitive, and beautiful, the invasion of man is jarringly horrifying, and will likely haunt you. The chorus of man strikes an ironic and satirical look on the city, which also boasts impossibly fast played up and down scales that would become Glass' trademark in later films. As we see the fate of mankind played out in the last shot, a chorus of low voices chants "Koyaanisqatsi!... Koyaanisqatsi!... Koyaanisqatsi!... Koyaanisqatsi!..."

"Life out of Balance!... Life out of Balance!... Life out of Balance!... Life out of Balance!..."

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