The Nature of Existence
Directed by Roger Nygard. (2010, NR, 94 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., July 16, 2010
Christian wrestlers, Stonehenge Druids, Indian yogis, and a puritanical street preacher. Scientists, director Irvin Kershner (The Empire Strikes Back), and performer Julia Sweeney (It’s Pat). These are among the scores of people filmmaker Nygard (Trekkies) turns to for answers to the meaning of life. Not surprisingly (and please forgive me if this is a spoiler), Nygard finds no definitive conclusion. However, he strives to make the journey enjoyable for the viewer as he treks the globe posing life’s big questions to one and all. The answers he gets are as varied as the individuals he speaks with and can be as simple as “barbecue” or “masturbation” or as layered in complexity as string theory. Nygard poses no counterarguments or follow-up questions; the film is merely a philosophical bazaar for the impulse shopper. More troubling, though, is Nygard’s first-person narrative, which tends to make the film more like a travelogue than an inquiry. He has a light touch and an ear for the comical, but it always seems to boil down to his personal need for the answer, a need that began for him as a youngster when his father died and then came into greater focus in the wake of 9/11, a statement which, to my mind, greatly trivializes the event by turning a national tragedy into an ego-assuaging exercise. Apart from animated interstitials, The Nature of Existence is recorded in talking-head style, fair and balanced in its presentation of a multiplicity of opinions. Yet the even-handedness of the film makes this viewer wish that it had a guiding point of view or sensibility. Certainly there are filmgoers who enjoy this kind of noncommittal metaphysical quest. I am not one of them. It makes me think that the filmmaker is more interested in showing us his vacation slides instead of sharing any real insights.