The Examined Life is a treat. The kind that is sweet but you haven’t got a clue as to what the hell is in it. This NFB film is essentially built around the camera taking us, the viewers, for strolls through New York City with some of the world’s foremost Western philosophers.
As we stroll by second-hand clothing shops, cafés, parks, ponds, ritzy high-end shops, and yes, garbage dumps, we are treated to the complex spilling-out of seven ambulatory thinkers’ thoughts on the subject of an examined life. From consumption to rebellion to gender and (dis)ability to embracing our trash, Peter Singer, Slavoj Zizek, Judith Butler, Avital Ronell, Michael Hardt, Anthony Appiah and Martha Nussbaum all deliver the goods while avoiding cracks in the sidewalk and NYC doggy-do landmines.
While the walking and talking thing does at times feel awkward and forced, it is a device undoubtedly used by Canadian filmmaker Astra Taylor to slow us down and remind us that, well, before we were all chained to our computers and mobile devices we did that old school thing a little more. Not to say that walking and talking (and thinking) are dead, but the contemplative stroll where the universe and everything is discussed does seem to be suffering in the techy-wake of so many of us drones milling about or walking with meaning, face intensely burried in some digital device of some kind. Yes I too read emails while walking to the metro – and people that is INSANE!!
The Examined Life is a feature-length stroll (and paddle) through quiet neighbourhoods, bustling parks, brimming dumps and murky Central Park ponds. While it could have come across as the frenetic walky-talky tone of an episode of The West Wing, it does instead ground the conversation in an ancient and relaxing cultural and physical activity. And besides, there are enough sitting talking heads in the world of doc to open a global fair ground shooting range.
The best complex treat is the film’s backbone: a cab ride through the busy streets of NYC with the philosopher king himself. Yes, Cornel West is his usual engaging, jazzy, beat-like, brazen, political, living connective tissue of tongue-twisting song, polemic, cultural juggler, and icon.
The Examined Life is directed by Astra Taylor, whose feature documentary portrait of world famous philosopher Slavoj Zizek, Zizek!, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2005.
For those in the Montreal area, The Examined Life is about to play at Cinema du Parc, beginning April 3rd. Do yourself a Socratic favour and treat yourself to 87 minutes of fabulously engaging Western thinkers wrestling with that famous quote, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Then go for a long walk, and after email me or comment here describing just what this treat was made of. I’m still pondering…