Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Is The Examined Life Worth Watching?

The Examined Life(2009)
directed by Astra Taylor

Cornell West and Slavoj Zizek steal the show, in Astra Taylor's meditative philoso-doc. Ten philosophers(I think) walk around talking about what else philosophy. There is a general emphasis on ethical philosophy, how to live in the modern world, as a global citizen etc, but with each tackling their own topic. Through editing the order of speakers, one person may contradict or expand on the proceeding's thoughts, which gives the film a sense of structure, the concepts flow naturally from one subject to another, regardless of whose speaking. However, Some are better speakers than others. Cornell West shares a taxi with the camera and discusses the most general philosophical themes of the film, but with the sharpest tongue and the finest wit, and likewise Slavoj Zizek, lecturing about "ecology as the new opium of the masses" while he walks through a garbage dump in an emergency vest, is capable of matching up his insights with his rhetorical skills and sense of humor.
Judith Butler and her Friend are a close third, walking and wheeling around San Francisco discussing the links between gender and disability theory, and the changing role of the body in society, echoing Simone De Beauvior, in asking not what bodies are, but what bodies can do.
The others are all a bit dismal though, ranging from mildly interesting to dull, a man in an airport discussing how the new global citizen of the future will have to learn to embrace a cosmopolitan ethics and culture, another man in a boat talks about observing the revolutions in Nicaragua, how such actions could never work in the states, and what "revolution" means today (he gets so carried away with his exposition, he stops minding his surroundings and runs his boat into something. The irony speaks for itself.), the others I honestly cant remember, which isn't a very good sign. These others who I cant remember, I recall thinking ranged from from the first day in class introductory, "what is philosophy", to people basically pitching their books by subtle means. If your interested in seeing whats on the minds of the "great" philosophical thinkers of today(well at least 3 of them anyway), I recommend it. Astray Taylor's direction is not as crisp and tight as it was in "Zizek", while in theory the cinema verite style would make perfect sense, it makes for an often visually dead film of walking heads. I'm glad films like this are still made, but I wish they were better made as well.

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