Film critics sometimes make apocalyptic pronouncements about the imminent Death of Cinema. Usually it is some hare-brained, multi-million-dollar action blockbuster from Hollywood that causes this gloomy prognostication.
However, over the past few months, it has become strikingly clear which particular sort of film will really spell the end of cinema as we once knew it: insufferable movies about the Meaning of Life like What the Bleep Do We (K)now!? (2004) and Chasing God.
This is a modest video production by Melbourne filmmakers, but it was shot all over the world and features a fruity Dawn French on voice-over duty. Surviving its fifty-two minutes certainly gave me an intuition of what Eternity must be like.
It is mainly a talking-heads piece, with the heads given pompous titles like The Cardinal (Francis Arinze), The Atheist (Phillip Adams) and the especially nebulous The Researcher (Richard Heinberg). All answer the question: does God exist? And why do we need Him to exist?
Two other elements go into the standard mix for films like this. Firstly, selections from the same image-bank raided by all movies in the dire Koyaanisqatsi (1983) tradition: nuclear explosions, Nazi rallies, the teeming metropolis, etc. Secondly, supposedly timeless and universal poetic images: flowers blooming, bells ringing, water streaming.
But this film, like What the Bleep, adds a third element: an outright bit of fiction, or at least some television-style 'dramatic re-enactment'. Memorable moments in this vein include a violent, disturbed fellow drawing a gun in a public place, and a fanatical suicide bomber preparing to press the button as indifferent commuters stream by.
To be fair, Chasing God might be bearable as filler on an episode of the religious program Compass on Australian Sunday night television, or as a discussion-starter in a secondary school classroom. Even in those contexts, however, I would advise the filmmakers to lose the final, inadvertently spooky montage of all its participants looking soulfully into the camera lens.
© Adrian Martin August 2005