Skip to content

On “Baraka,” Culture, Religion and Animals

"Baraka" is a documentary with no words but with powerful music (therefore watching it with the sound off is not a terrible idea). According to the website, Spirit of Baraka:

[H]igh quality 70mm images show some of the best, and worse, parts of nature and human life.  Timelapse is used heavily to show everyday life from a different perspective.  Baraka is often considered a spiritual film.

Baraka is an ancient Sufi word, which can be translated as "a blessing, or as the breath, or essence of life from which the evolutionary process unfolds."  For many people Baraka is the definitive film in this style. Breathtaking shots from around the world show the beauty and destruction of nature and humans. Coupled with an incredible soundtrack including on site recordings of The Monks Of The Dip Tse Chok Ling Monastery.

What kind of message is transmitted without words, you ask? A message of contrasts. The juxtaposition of scenes speaks volumes, as does the choice of locations and the choice of topics. Religion plays a huge part in the film, and I was overwhelmed with the amount of time, money, architecture, song, speech and clothing devoted to religious expression around the world.

The cinematography is breathtaking. It took 14 months to film in 24 countries, and you usually aren’t quite sure which country you’re looking at, or what exactly it is the people (particularly in rituals) are trying to accomplish. (Actually, that’s not fair–the purpose of the ritual is the ritual. But the audience doesn’t know the context.)

Three things struck me most:

  1. The preponderance of religion. There is a beauty in the fact that the people filmed are so involved in their worship. But that beauty, for me, is fleeting, as I immediately am reminded of what has become of the world because of religion. Usually the beauty is in the music, for me. I enjoy chanting, no matter what the language or religion. My experience of the film was that much of human life and endeavor is involved in matters of religion.
  2. Beginning at about minute 48 (the film is 96 minutes long), there are two sets of images of animals that I can NOT get out of my head. The first is a very clinical-looking, factory-ish setting, I believe in an Asian country, where thousands of chicks are sent onto a conveyor belt and people check them, one by one, for sex, and the females get a green drop of ink put on their face. Then at another section on this stainless steel contraption, the chicks are sorted and the males are tossed down a funnel and a set of chutes, to their death (which we don’t see) and we get a brutal close-up of the searing of the beaks of the females. The next shot is the rows of females in battery cages. This is all juxtaposed with scenes of people in subways going through turnstiles, then cars running as far as the eye can see up Park Avenue in Manhattan.
  3. The other image I can’t get out of my head is a heartbreaking scene in Yemen of a man riding a cart UPHILL, being pulled by two donkeys who are clearly in excruciating pain as they pull the cart inches at a time.

There are also scenes of tremendous human hardship, such as people (and animals) sifting through garbage in Calcutta and a set of scenes pertaining to Auschwitz.

For those who say that we vegans care more about animals than people, that’s rubbish. But the element that is present in our atrocities against animals that is absent in our atrocities against one another is: a lack of outrage. Everyone is outraged over the Holocaust. Everyone is outraged about extreme poverty, starvation and desperation in a world where some have so much. But very few people are outraged over the billions of chicks who get tossed to their death without a second thought. Very few are outraged over tying an animal to a cart and forcing her to work when and where you wish.

We need more outrage about what is truly outrageous: that billions of animals are still living horrible lives and dying horrible deaths, for no good reason.

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Baraka is truly a very powerful "documentary" which kind of proves that a (well taken) picture speaks a thousand words. I personally appreciate that the director included "animal issues" in the film.

    The music is truly enchanting and matches the scenes perfectly…plus it includes music from Dead Can Dance (and Lisa Gerrard's enchanting voice), which happens to be my favourite band.

    February 26, 2008

Leave a Reply

You may use basic HTML in your comments. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS