I recommend the DVD Canadian documentary film Examined Life by Zeitgeist Films, which features such philosophers like Cornel West and Peter Singer. Examined Life was directed by Astra Taylor, and takes viewers on a cinematic journey though philosophical thought using time and place as emphatic backdrops. I received a review copy of this DVD from Zeitgeist Films, but I was under no obligation to recommend the documentary. The film is broken down into 10 segments, and takes place in various locales.
Synopsis of the New Release DVD Documentary Film Examined Life
The film is anchored with three vignettes of a drive through the streets of Manhattan with Princeton professor Cornel West, as he discusses what such concepts like time, romanticism, and philosophy mean to him. The camera constantly cuts to the goings on all around him: people walking, waiting at stop lights, and performing outside his car. He talks in more high concepts than the other philosophers who are featured in the documentary Examined Life as he discusses things like philosophy’s relation to music and how we are all “beings toward death” but who also “desire in the face of death.”
It’s the context of what the philosophers discuss within their surroundings that make the film work. Some of the most memorable vignettes include a walk on a sunny day through Central Park with NYU professor and feminist Avital Ronell, who shows a real calm displeasure with being limited to 10 minutes in talking about the meaning of life. She thinks that people can be occupied too much with finding meaning in things rather than letting things basically be. Ronell and the viewers see two dogs playing rough with each other. She uses that happening to illustrate her points. As Ronell talks, the camera isn’t afraid to focus on other people as they relax and enjoy the day, some caught up in their own worlds listening to music.
Also in New York City, but amongst the consumerism of 5th Avenue with people looking for bargains and carrying shopping bags en masse, it’s where Princeton professor Peter Singer discusses ethics as he walks by advertisements of such corporate entities like McDonald’s, Aldo, FedEx, Sprint, Ann Taylor, etc. He stresses how people need to think beyond their own self-interest and ponder why they would pay so much money for a fancy pair of shoes while others suffer because of the lack of health care that money for shoes could’ve gotten.
Examined Life: The Cinematography of John M. Tran Helps Carry the Film
The cinematography of Examined Life is “the straw that stirs the cinematic drink of this film.” If all viewers got to see was a bunch of philosophers telling them what they thought life was about, it would easily become a boring 88 minute experience. The cuts from the philosophers to other living beings seen participating in life add more substance and meaning to what’s being discussed, for the surroundings add contextual meaning to the discourse. A prime example is when cultural theorist Kwame Anthony Appiah walks through and waits in a large, airy terminal of a Toronto airport as planes land and take off. An airport is where one comes into contact with folks from all over the world, and Appiah expounds on the philosophy of cosmopolitanism in this new release DVD of Examined Life. Appiah shares his thoughts of people needing to balance being responsible not just to their immediate relationships, but with also participating as “global citizens.”
One of the best shots from the Canadian documentary came as European Graduate School Professor Slavoj Zizek pointed at a pile of trash at a London area city dump during his discourse on ecology, conceding that to truly love is to accept the world’s imperfections. There was a sense of irony as Duke University Professor Michael Hardt talked about the meaning of political and social revolutions while rowing on a pond in Central Park as one sees a large group of turtles clinging to a rock during a picture perfect day.
Other talks that are featured include University of Chicago Professor Martha Nussbaum walking along a lake discussing social contracts that society has set up, especially in relation towards less powerful human forces like women and the disabled. Professor at UC Berkeley Judith Butler and artist-activist Sunaura Taylor walk and shop in San Francisco’s Mission District discussing how everyone really needs each other, even though disabled people (like Taylor, who uses a motorized wheelchair to get around) are often looked down upon because their bodies are more limited.
Examined Life is a Canadian Documentary that Challenges Viewers Via the Thoughts of Philosophers Like Cornel West
Movie goers who want car chase scenes, “Mall Cop” style comedy, or hot love scenes are not the target audience for this Canadian-made documentary. For this DVD new release challenges people to either start or continue thinking about the meaning of existing. And it’s the settings for this film Examined Life – places as the park, city streets, or the airport where people often have time to be alone with their thoughts – that carry the film. But how many humans really examine themselves like these philosophers do, actually engage in something that Cornell West deems riskier than being in military combat? You don’t have to understand fully the concepts being discussed, but it’s being open to hearing new things from others that edifies. Even the ending of Examined Life leaves you the opportunity to be alone with your thoughts as the darkening skies of Gotham slowly embark upon the watcher.
More About the New Release Documentary Film on DVD Examined Life
This product contains a number of bonus items, including two more segments on philosophy. These feature University of Miami philosophy teacher Colin McGinn walking along a beach challenging our notions of reality and Brooklynite author Simon Critchley standing on a rooftop in the evening discussing how accepting death is the key to living a life of freedom. The Examined Life DVD bonus features also feature Question & Answer sessions with Cornel West, Avital Ronell, Kwame Anthony Appiah, and director Astra Taylor.
This Canadian documentary is 88 minutes in length, and is not rated. There’s a bit of suggestive language. The trailer for Examined Life can be seen at this link here. The DVD can be purchased via Zeitgeist Films DVD Store at this link.
Contact Zeitgeist Films: 247 Centre St., 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10013. Phone: 212-274-1989. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Website here.
Source for this review of the Canadian documentary DVD Examined Life, which “stars” Cornel West:
Online Press Kit, Examined Life: http://www.zeitgeistfilms.com/films/examinedlife/examinedlife.presskit.pdf, Zeitgeist Films