Powaqqatsi:The Sorcerer’s Web

Powaqqatsi: Life In Transformation,  a 1988 film written and directed by Godfrey Reggio, is the sequel to the 1983 film Koyaanisqatsi by the same director and is the second of three in the director’s trilogy.

Although more than 20 years have passed since this film was released it loses little of its power due to the stark images that resonate in tandem with the musical score by Philip Glass. No viewer walks away from this film without at least a greater understanding of the wide discrepancies between the third world and the industrially developed countries. To live in a developed country is a stroke of immense good fortune for most of us (not all by any means). But certainly, to be able to escape the everyday poverty and grinding labor of the less fortunate on this planet is not something to be taken lightly. Reggio reminds us in every image that in many cases we are living “off the backs” of labor that is cheap and plentiful, and we seem to care little how, where or from whom our great wealth is acquired.

No where is this more apparent than in the translation of the Hopi word, Powaqqatsi, which according to the last frame in the film is not simply life in transformation, but more specifically life in transition, with its root reference to sorcery and its historical translation:

A way of life that consumes the life forces of other beings in order to further its own way of life.

The industrialized are the “sorcerers” weaving our economic magic and imperialism over the poorer majority, cajoling them to produce and manufacture, for in many cases not even our necessities, but for luxuries that only can be described as an orgy of self-indulgent consumerism. All the while we sell a tale of free trade that is contrived as a gift to the poorest of the poor, when in reality it is nothing more than robbing the third world of their resources, while paying them a pittance to do so. If that doesn’t fit into the category of unmitigated arrogance and deception I don’t know what is. 

Then what can be more haunting than the title image above? A young boy being overtaken by a mega-dump truck, roiling up from behind the monster a thick cloud of choking dust, endlessly engulfing everything within range, caring not a wit about the people disappearing into the vortex of overpowering industrialization that spews out the remains of human lives, like so much detritus.

We should care about that! 

Most of us don’t though, too busy with our daily lives, seeped in our good fortune and not wanting to know how or where these gifts of privilege have come from. But thanks to people like Godfrey Reggio, we must confront the results of too much consumption, too much wealth, too much exploitation, and once we have the snapshots in our minds we are compelled to consider the plight of over one-half the population of the world. Conscience now comes into play, and even the most hardened among us are forced to consider the ramifications of both our actions and inaction.

If human nature combined with free market capitalism is irrevocably bound to over-consumption, convenience, privilege and luxury, then we can at least try to reduce our numbers so demand does not invite the economic abuses so prevalent in the world today.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Chu Faubert
    Mar 27, 2011 @ 04:56:08

    Brilliant blog post and genuinely will help with becoming familiar with the subject matter much better.

  2. theultimateoutcast
    Jan 20, 2011 @ 12:00:25

    Unfortunately, not enough people will actually view this important movie (like myself). I’m glad I know about it but I don’t ever go get a movie these days.

    But, your post reminds me of the new movie Avatar. Have you seen it? There is young population growing up with that movie. It’s success holds promise that future generations will get this right. I have to hand it to James Cameron for making a strong political statement that advocates changing the very circumstances you describe here. I want my son to grow up seeing this movie. He already asks why things are happening in it and I tell him.

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