The Nature of Existence, Special Edition 2-Disc Set (2010)

by | Nov 14, 2010 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

The Nature of Existence, Special Edition 2-Disc Set (2010)

Documentary by Roger Nygard
Studio:  [11/23]10]
Talking Heads Include: Orson Scott Card, Julie Sweeney, Sri Siri Ravi Shankar, Brother Jed Smock, Leonard Susskind, Irvin Kershner, King Arthur Pendragon, & many others.
Video: 16:9 color (also avail. as Blu-ray)
Audio: English PCM Stereo
Subtitles: English
Extras: “The Making of The Nature of Existence,” Deleted scenes, Standup comedy by Steve Fromstein, Pandeit Jasraj Indian vocal music performance, Audio commentary with the filmmaker and guests, Two early shorts by Roger Nygard: Poltercube & The Destroyers.
Length: Feature: 94 minutes; extras on Disc 1: 32 min.; 114 min. extras on Disc 2
Rating: *****

This documentary – the fourth from the director of Trekkies and Trekkies 2 – is billed as a “spiritual comedy documentary.” That’s a new one on me but it makes sense. What a kick! This is the sort of documentary I would have made myself in the 70s if inexpensive mobile videocams had existed then, instead of publishing this web site! No more struggling to raise the outrageous monies required for even 16mm productions, no worries about shooting lots of footage that may not be used (Nygard assembled over 480 hours over the years he spent putting together this documentary), no worries about lighting or odd color balance, lightweight simple cameras (now even hi-def!) that can be taken literally anywhere, simple and effective live on-camera sound, easy creation of titles and special effects, easy digital video editing, you name it!  The only real problem is getting a distributor – which according the three guys who put this together – is not very easy.

Nygard has a very open-minded and well-balanced attitude for finding really incredible and even insane characters and putting the most interesting and unplanned encounters with them on film.  Those encounters he and his cohorts didn’t consider quite as interesting are all on the second DVD – but some are almost as good though there may be exposure problems and other considerations. He was in Israel filming portions of Trekkies 2 in 2003 when – perhaps due to the stimulus of the Holy Land – the idea of doing another documentary on the question of “Why do we Exist?” came to him. His first interview was of an orthodox rabbi who showed him his special domicile for a Hebrew religious observance. He sat down and wrote out 80 or 90 questions to ask his talking heads, concerning faith, the existence of God, the afterlife, sex, etc.

The goal Nyard is after here is explained in the extras: to provide viewers the links between culture and faith all over the world, and let the viewers decide for themselves if any of it works for them.  It’s no accident that this results in more laughs than a corny sit com, as well as touching moments. For me, the fundamentalist mission in the South featuring Christian Wrestling was one of the best.  After talking to a friend who encouraged Nygard to explore the faiths in other parts of the world, he traveled to India and China.  He covered some various East Indian faiths – I didn’t know that the “Lovers of Meher Baba” were such a large group, or anything of the hot new smiling Indian guru (a former disciple of the Maharishi) Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

Some viewers have observed that they never had thought they could learn about spirituality and laugh at the time time. The documentary is entertaining, intelligent and thought-provoking all at once. I’d like to point out the short bit on Disc 2 by standup Steve Fromstein – some of the most intelligent-sounding standup material on sex and religion I’ve ever heard.  One recurring element is footage of radical “confrontational fundamentalist”  Brother Jed, who goes to the campuses of various universities and debates outdoors with the students – most of them coming to laugh at and mock him. He’s also featured in The Destroyers short, back in the 80s. There is plenty of information here – some may be completely ignored but other material will get the viewer thinking for themselves. It’s not talking heads either – there are some gorgeous shots of the environment in the various exotic places Nygard journeys to.  His approach is not in the least preachy or condescending. Surely one of the great current theatrical documentaries. And the Making Of featurette is also most informative.

 — John Sunier

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