Koyaanisqatsi - Life Out of Balance

Critics Consensus

Koyaanisqatsi combines striking visuals and a brilliant score to produce a viewing experience that manages to be formally daring as well as purely entertaining.



Total Count: 20


Audience Score

User Ratings: 15,103
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Movie Info

Koyaanisqatsi is a Hopi word meaning "Life Out of Balance," which is both the subtitle and the theme of this intriguing documentary. Godfrey Reggio has woven a hypnotic tapestry of time-lapse photography and Philip Glass's trademark minimalist soundtrack, which drones the title every chance it gets. The viewer needs no voiceover to get the point: man is an animal spinning out of control and taking the planet with him. The film is not for all tastes, but it is certainly an unforgettable cinematic experience. Reggio continues to produce variations on the theme: Powaqqatsi in 1988 and Anima Mundi in 1991.

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Critic Reviews for Koyaanisqatsi - Life Out of Balance

All Critics (20) | Top Critics (1) | Fresh (18) | Rotten (2)

Audience Reviews for Koyaanisqatsi - Life Out of Balance

  • Mar 21, 2013
    So, Koyanisqaatsi. Boring junk to some, an involving masterpiece to others, and God knows what other adjective-noun combinations are out there. Most of these descriptions are fairly subjective, but it would definitely be wrong to regard Koyanisqaatsi as anti-cinema. It is anything but. Cinema, in its purest form, is a marriage of sound and visuals; everything else is just decoration. Dialogue? Storyline? Koyanisqaatsi harks back to an age when cinema was simply a filmed record of a situation. Was it not the Lumiere brothers who are generally regarded as the first pioneers of cinema? And is it not the case that their films comprised of nothing more than situations like a couple feeding their baby, workers leaving a factory, or the (in)famous Train Leaving A Station, which went down in folklore as causing people to flee the auditorium in panic thinking they were about to be hit by a train as it approached them on-screen? Koyanisqaatsi is cinema returning to its roots, to the days when the possibilities for film as an art form were wide open, free of commercial constraints and fickle audiences too narrow in scope to accept anything other than what they view as the given norm. In a way it's fairly irrelevant what Koyanasqaatsi meant to me on a personal level, though I might get to that later. What's important is what Koyanasqaatsi represents. It's an interesting attempt (and a successful one in my view) to illustrate how a narrative can be created simply by editing together seemingly loosely related scenes and images. It reminds me of another cinematic milestone, the Kuleshov experiment, in which two separate images where edited together to create a third meaning, and which helped establish what is now known as Russian montage (and speaking of the Russian montage tradition, anyone who has seen Vertov's The Man With The Movie Camera will no doubt find traces of it in Koyanisqaatsi and vice versa). Koyanisqaatsi takes it one step further, perhaps even to its logical conclusion, using editing to create a new meaning for the entire narrative as a whole. It works on a gut level and sparks an emotional response, in a way it demands a response, be it boredom, amazement... it really depends on the person. As such it's an example of cinema at its most subjective. Coming back to the influence Man With A Movie Camera no doubt had on this film, I think what Godfrey Reggio has done here is take this specific style of film-making and turn it into what I, personally, view as a cinematic statement on humanity -- and our technology's relationship with the environment around us. It's a pessimistic film, filled with Cold War anxiety (though it hasn't lost any of its relevance), and in retrospect, I also found it reminiscent of an age when America still had a strong avant garde movement in the shape of people like Reggio or Laurie Anderson (and in a way it's an interesting coincidence that 1983 also gave birth to another experimental documentary, Chris Marker's Sans Soleil, which is equally rich in scope and tackles the same philosophical issues, albeit from a slightly different angle). I really wonder if the western world could produce a film like this today, in an age where cinema audiences are more fickle than ever, demanding a cut every three seconds and some sort of "surprise twist" at the end, with hardly a niche left for the Godrey Reggio's of this world. But in a way I suppose it doesn't really matter. Koyanisqaatsi, to me at least, is one of the richest cinematic experiences anyone could possibly hope to have. You won't see many films like it.
    Jonathan H Super Reviewer
  • Mar 09, 2012
    This just might be the greatest non-narrative film of all time. It might not have a plot, and the script was probably more like an outline of the various sequences, but there's definitely a story here. Composed entirely of various footage of both natural and human environments set to the brilliant and haunting music of Philip Glass, Koyaanisqatsi (it's Hopi for "life out of balance", this is a look at our world, the juxtapositions between man and nature, and the fact that man is winning, and nature isn't. That's the story, and the film itself, right there. It somehow manages to be both straightforward and simple, yet have so much going on. And it's all done without dialogue (save for some postscript at the end). That is an amazing feat right there, and I feel like a better person for finally sitting down and giving this celebrated art house gem a watch. Sure, Herzog did some stuff like this before 1983, but this film really set a standard for artsy, somewhat pretentious experimental pieces that could be appreciated by the masses as well as the elite. The cinematogrphy by Ron Fricke is, brilliant and pretty innovative (especially for the time), and this is one of the best experiecnes I've gone through in a while. That's also the best way to treat this film. It's an experience more than anything, and I could easily see this playing in an art galelry or something. I really dug what all involved did here, but the film does seem to run out of steam here and there, and for very brief moments ,this truly felt like a gimmick. That didn't last too long though thankfully. It's weird, since even though I thought this ran out of steam (depsite being just under 90 minutes), I'd love to know how much footage was cut out, and I'd like to see it as well. Give this a watch, even if only once. It's a really special and unique film, and I feel like each person needs to have a surreal, ethereal experience like the kind this film provides.
    Chris W Super Reviewer
  • Feb 02, 2011
    Visually and metaphorically very good. I especially liked the comparison between the sausages and humans. Very interesting but not something to watch for entertainment. We are destroying this world. Nature vs. humans.
    Sophie B Super Reviewer
  • Mar 06, 2010
    What makes this film so mesmerizing is how it is essentially structured through visual parallels and continuous repetition (emphasized by Philip Glass's music) to brilliantly illustrate the mechanics of our world as a fast-paced insanity of people, cars, expressways, machines and destruction.
    Carlos M Super Reviewer

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