Cinequest closes on Sunday, March 8 with The Nature of Existence, and so far it's the movie I'm most looking forward to seeing again. That's because it's so far ranging, so ambitious, and so all-encompassing that it's impossible to digest it all in one screening (for that matter, it contains so many contrary viewpoints it might never be possible to digest).
Director Roger Nygard sets out to answer the biggest question of all--Why do we exist? Along the way (and around the world), he interviews literally everyone who will offer an answer, making it a sort of world tour of philosophies. His interviews include some big "gets"--Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Orson Scott Card, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking (kind of). He gets many religious experts--Rabbis, Tao masters, Islamic clerics, Jainists, a Christian street preacher (Brother Jed Smock, who kinda scares me), even the high priest of the Church of Satan. And scientists, of course. He gets Richard Dawkins to slip and say "God knows..." and then laugh at himself. One of the most interesting interviews Matthew Alper, author of The "GOD" Part of the Brain, who argues that the belief in God is an evolutionary adaptation necessary to keep from succumbing to extreme anxiety after we became aware of our own mortality. Nygard rounds it out with some amusing ordinary people--taxi drivers, pizza chefs, etc. And then there are the nutcases--modern druids, Marin County hippies , lovers of Meher Baba, the Christian Wrestling Ministry, etc. (note to any nutcases reading this: I apologize for calling you nutcases). Out of all of this, there's no way anything like a consistent answer forms (although one thing is clear, all religions hate masturbation, all secular thinkers think it's no big deal). Instead, it's a hilarious juxtaposition of contrasting ideas. It won't give you any answers, but it's likely to throw a new idea or two your way. The most surprising thing for me was when he interviewed a friend's tweenage daughter. She ended up having the beliefs that most closely matches my own. It's a little disconcerting to realize my outlook on life most closely matches a junior high girl. Maybe I should go watch Twilight after all?
[update: Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, my favorite line of the movie: "Ask 3 Jews the same question, you'll get 5 different answers."]