Doc of the Day: Microcosmos Review - Dan Schindel

Doc of the Day: Microcosmos

Posted in Days of Docs, Reviews by - May 11, 2012

Peek into the world that exists in the trees and grass outside your window.

Dir. Claude Nuridsany & Marie Perennou, 1996, 75 min

Our world is kinda crazy. The great thing about science and nature documentaries is that how immediately they demonstrate this for you. Because I am a boring nerd, I find even the most dry, academic, stereotypically PBS-like informational docs appealing. But if you are an interesting person who doesn’t care about learning, then good news! You’ll probably still like Microcosmos (and that isn’t a slam on the film at all).

Life consists of systems within systems within systems, and life itself is a system within the larger system of the Earth, which is a system within the larger system of the universe (…system). This movie zooms in close on a tiny aspect of life’s web: the world of insects. Caterpillars birth and feed and cocoon themselves and burst into the world as butterflies. Ants march about their busywork. Bees suck nectar from flowers while the flowers spread their pollen on them. It’s a hundred small things that happen right under our nose (or feet, rather) every minute of every day.

This is the kind of movie that can arrest you through sheer visual force if nothing else. The miniscule cinematography is absolutely stunning in its clarity. You don’t feel for a second that you are looking through a magnifying glass; you are there with these bugs as they eat and sleep and mate and kill. The level of detail means that even something as simple as the undulating movement of a centipede is mesmerizing. A grand, exciting score by Bruno Coulais nicely complements the visuals. With his orchestra, the fight between two beetles is an epic worthy of Norse legend. In a world where the only rule is survival of the fittest, it’s an appropriate tone.

Even though I compared it to educational films, Microcosmos isn’t really all that educational. The narration is sparse, coming only at the beginning and end. It makes no attempt to explain what any of these creatures are, nor the reasons for why they do anything that they do. If you missed elementary school biology, then you’ll be lost, but you still should be able to enjoy the movie on a purely visceral reaction. If you understand what’s happening, you’ll appreciate it much more deeply. This is the beauty that fiction tries to replicate, to variable success. This is the beauty of life at work.

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Dan Schindel loves movies more than you do.

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