Friday, April 12, 2024

Life and Other Problems review: A strangely moving doc on age-old questions about existence

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Max Kestner’s Life and Other Problems, which opened the 21st edition of the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival, fixes its gaze on the curious incident of Marius, the yoing giraffe killed at the Copanhagen Zoo because the animal was no longer needed as part of the international breeding program. The case of Marius triggers larger questions on the importance of life, decision-makers and existence in this inconsistent yet strangely moving film. (Also read: A New Kind of Wilderness review: Intimate documentary about a family returning to new normal)

Life and Other Problems opened CPH: Docx.

The premise

The main element that drives the structure of this documentary forward is curiosity. To know about life, whether non-living entities have consciousness, and more musings on understanding the world betterment. The camera first stumbles on the Marius incident, placing some attention to the zoo director Bengst Holst, who shares how the case received international coverage, while his mail overflowed with hate messages. Other zoos tried to pitch in to save Marius, and animal-rights group held protests. But none could save the adorable giraffe, who was not only euthanized but also his body skinned in front of bystanders (many of whom were children) and fed to the tigers in the zoo.

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It’s not Disney, its the real world where carnivores feed on other animals, argued Holst, as the camera cuts to the exceptional attention received by this particular giraffe. It sets off to explore difficult and unending quest on the meaning of life. Some of the interviews with professors, marine biologists and neuroscientists, although engaging, seem inconsistent and after a point, meandering around the same questions without any particular point to make.

Perhaps because there is no singular answer or end point to the discourse, and only opinions help in gathering information in these areas. Still, Life and Other Problems goes into a quest that shifts gears from scientific to philosophical, without an overarching thread of connection.

Kestner also involves himself in this study, often sharing his own reflections along the way. This connection doesn’t really help in connecting the different, often jarring strands of this uneven video essay of a film that seems to congratulate itself on these questions rather than instilling any sense of insight into modern day existence.

Final thoughts

It is as if these questions and ramblings exist in some sort of a detached vicinity, where the interactions and human complicity is never fully given the permission to stay afloat. The scenes of Marius’s death is chilling and clinically precise, but the discussion it sets forth combines age-old philosophical questions that feels difficult to reason with.

Life and Other Problems is a film that refuses to bend towards a particular destination. The effort lies in the discourse, in spilling forth these questions on the research of life and existing consciousness. It confronts only minutely, but when it does, the enquiry can be particularly moving. It required a little more proximity of context, a little more clarity of narrative framework to ground the intriguing research into a steady focus. For what it is, Life and Other Problems has some problems of its own to come to terms with its own perspective.

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