This is one of those movies that people will either find amazing or a complete waste of time. I agree with the first part.
What exactly is this movie? Well, it’s more of an experience complete with time lapse photography, hypnotic music, and striking imagery that create a large picture about what happens when technology takes over nature and how it affects us.
At first, nature is presented on a grand scale through slow-motion photography. Take it in as it gives way to technology appearing in the landscape. The land is dug up as industrial machines crop up.
As the film takes us away from the tranquility of nature to the overcrowded world of modern times, the music begins to increase in tempo for a few sequences. It’s not noticeable at first but as soon as you start to see the large quantities of machines, it begins. The most famous sequence is also the longest and visually arresting, known as “The Grid”, appears at the 43-minute mark. Time lapse imagery set to ludicrous speed and a repetitive score present the chaotic lifestyle that we live in as we want things fast and now. Headlights at night flow like a river. Humans dart back and forth trying to get to wherever they need to go. After twenty whole minutes, it stops; I felt mentally exhausted after that but I believe that was intended. We then see how the design of a city looks like a microchip; we are a part of a whole system. The film ends with a rocket exploding and a translation of the film’s title, along with three prophecies.
So what’s the big deal? There is no conventional plot but more of a free-association narrative. I have had trouble recommending this to friends just because of how different the nature of the movie is. Koyaanisqatsi was featured in film and editing textbooks that I’ve used in college, so I figured I needed to see it, especially if it was analyzed for most of one chapter.
As to how you see it, there are a few ways. I first saw a copy of this on Vimeo (now removed). It is on Hulu for free if you don’t have an account but I strongly recommend you do NOT see that version as it is interrupted with ads and butchers the flow of the film, especially during the aforementioned “Grid” sequence. Criterion Collection has this and the other two films in the trilogy available (one for my wish list). This is one where you cannot pause in the middle or skip ahead just because it seems like it doesn’t end; try to watch it one sitting if you can.
1001 MYMSBYD selection