Thoughts On ‘Samsara’ And Our (Supposedly) Diminishing Attention Spans
Over the weekend I went to see the film “Samsara” (directed by Ron Fricke and which premiered a year ago at the Toronto International Film Festival, only having begun to creep into the theatres over the past few months) having very little idea what I was going to be watching. The friend who invited me to go told me it was a film without plot or dialogue, just pretty imagery from around the world. Upon Googling it I read that it was a “nonverbal, guided meditation” and thus went into the film expecting it to be an hour and a half of National Geographic-esque visuals.
The film was a lot of things, many of which I wasn’t anticipating, but as I walked into the movie theatre I’m almost ashamed to say that there was really only one thing I was thinking about, and that was worrying that the film wouldn’t hold my attention.
It seems silly now, after actually seeing the film, and maybe in the future I’ll have a little more faith in my own attention span, but I was genuinely worried about it. A film with no plot, no dialogue, no witty banter to keep me at the edge of my seat. This film that was supposed to be so spectacular… and I was afraid it would be lost on me because it wasn’t like every other movie we’re used to going to see. I was a little terrified, partially because I was worried I would be bored, but more so because of what it might say about me if I couldn’t focus for 90 minutes on something that wasn’t working overtime to make sure I was engaged.
We are always hearing it flippantly said that people today can’t focus like they used to because of all the options that are at our fingertips every second of the day. If we get bored of watching one thing, there’s nothing to stop us from moving on to something else, and I guess we just get used to everything we watch vying for our attention by any means possible. When something doesn’t make that effort to keep us entertained, we feel a little lost.
It didn’t seem like Samsara spent any time at all worrying if it had its audience captive, but we were all glued to our seats anyway. Less than five minutes after the movie started I knew I didn’t have to worry about not staying engaged. It definitely wasn’t the “guided meditation” I was expecting to see. It was beautiful, and sometimes uncomfortable, and sometimes disturbing, but I didn’t look away once. Ninety or so minutes went by and when it ended, not a single person got up to leave the theatre. The lights never came on and everyone just stayed in their seats through the entire credits, and exclaimed exasperatedly when the credits ended and the screen starting playing commercials and generally ruining the moment. A rude awakening back into the world of the television yelling at you to pay attention to it after an hour and a half of being given nothing but images and music and being able to decide for ourselves if it was worth our effort to watch and listen.
I’m glad I didn’t let being intimidated keep me from seeing this great film. The truth is, we can take in a lot more than we give ourselves credit for. Just because we do on occasion, or perhaps on many, many occasions, let what we’re watching do all the work for us doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve lost our attention spans. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with watching things mindlessly, we all need a break sometimes and it can be a good way to unwind. But it was good to remember that watching something can be an active and mindful experience.
Have you seen Samsara? What did you think of it? Let us know in the comments!
Written by Cleo McClintock