Sunaura Taylor (left) and Judith Butler think big in Examined Life.
EXAMINED LIFE (Astra Taylor) Rating: NNN
Usually, when you put the words "talking heads" alongside the word "documentary," you're not saying anything good.
But when the talking heads are as smart and hyper-articulate as those in Astra Taylor's Examined Life, the result is fascinating.
Nine philosophers - Cornel West, Avital Ronell, Peter Singer, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Martha Nussbaum, Michael Hardt, Slavoj Zizek, Judith Butler and Sunaura Taylor - are given 10 minutes each to talk about the meaning of life. Taylor captures each of them in motion - walking, rowing, at an airport, in a cab - against an apt background. Singer rails against consumerism while walking along Fifth Avenue's high-end shops, for instance. Hardt talks revolution as he rows in New York's Central Park, the privileged Upper West Side in view.
The film is least interesting when the subject is conventional politics, except when Zizek is holding forth. Standing in front of a heap of garbage, he challenges our progressive assumptions, arguing that environmentalism is a movement against change - and he doesn't sound like a dinosaur.
Examined Life really rocks when Butler and disabilities activist Sunaura talk about regressive individualism, and, early on, when Ronell refers to the search for meaning as a basically fascistic exercise.
West, considered one of America's foremost intellectuals, is phenomenal, comparing philosophy to blues via Beethoven and Chekhov and more. I'd put him in my living room and let him talk all night if I had the chance. Here, you only get him for 10 minutes.
Opens Friday (January 23) at the Royal.
Following the 7pm screening on Tuesday Jan. 27th, there will be a panel called "Space to Think" on the intersection of public space and intellectual pursuits, featuring Astra Taylor, Jane Farrow, Deborah Cowen, Kanishka Goonewardena.