those who donít know, I got married two weeks ago, and as I
was preparing for my honeymoon - stocking up on music and
books for my relaxed trip out west, off the grid - I found
myself reflecting on whatís been lost in our go-go,
tech-heavy culture, among all thatís been gained.
As a civilization, we have never been more connected or
moving at faster speeds. All the information that man has ever
archived is now readily available at our fingertips. We can
send videos to friends on our cell phones, all the while
fielding e-mails and talking to friends halfway around the
Life is moving at the speed of light - all that expense of
our internal clocks. When was the last time you sat down to
read a book in the middle of the day? Or took time to listen
to the silence? When was the last time you went to a park for
a picnic, or napped away the afternoon?
Buried underneath all of the other themes in "Examined
Life," is the notion that we need to reconnect to the
bigger questions of life. Yes, Twitter feeds and Facebook
pages and e-mail are important, but when was the last time we
allowed ourselves to think beyond the computer screen? Beyond
Astra Taylorís documentary attempts to build a bridge
between todayís most inspiring philosophers and the average
citizen. Taylor inserts her subjects into the most routine and
commonplace of locales (parks, airports, backseats of cars,
landfills, shopping districts) as they casually, though
headily, discuss a variety of topics, Taylor delivers an
engaging defense for the idea that this type of thinking is
exactly what the world needs right now.
What better place to start than with philosophical
preacher, professor, author, lecturer, and rapper Dr. Cornel
West. West brings a musical influence to his intellectual
pursuits, but it isnít just the blues, jazz, and hip-hop; itís
classical, itís 1960s pop, itís everything and then some.
And while he stresses that philosophy needs to go to school
with music, not just poetry, he certainly doesnít dismiss
that form of art, unleashing a flurry of references and actual
quotes that makes one think, "Just how big is this manís
brain of reference?"
Taylor questions West as she drives him around Manhattan.
Sitting in the backseat, he bursts forth with enthusiasm. One
imagines this is exactly how he would act if he had just
hopped into a random taxicab.
To West, the life of ideas is deeply connected to our
appreciation of life and acceptance of death. Without it, we
arenít really living.
Early on, one comes to understand that Taylorís structure
and style isnít overly rigid and formal. Because of this,
"Examined Life" doesnít feel like a lesson at all;
it feels like a conversation (albeit a smart one).
As he strolls Fifth Avenue and mocks materialism, Peter
Singer (author of the seminal "Animal Liberation")
points out that our moral obligation as citizens is to help as
much as to simply "not harm."
In a Toronto airport, Kwame Anthony Appiah acknowledges the
difference between the notions of global versus personal care,
but stresses that we must find a way to simultaneously take
care of both.
Strolling through a downtown New York City park, Ativa
Ronell states, "The responsible being is the one who
thinks theyíve never been responsible enough." These
three examples are more proof that Taylor isnít forcing an
agenda down her subjectsí throats. She would rather let them
make their own points about a variety of modern ethical and
And so it goes. "Examined Life" could have been
yet another work of non-fiction that preaches to the choir,
yet Taylor has done her part to inject some much needed energy
into her potentially stiff material. By doing this, she hasnít
made yet another forgettable talking heads doc. Rather, sheís
made a genuinely relevant work of walking brains, a film that
challenges us to think big, and go forth into the great
mystery that is life.