Doc­u­men­tary on ex­is­tence wide, not deep

Austin American-Statesman - - MOVIES & LIFE - By Charles Ealy

Af­ter the events of Sept. 11, 2001, doc­u­men­tary filmmaker Roger Ny­gard says he be­came ob­sessed with the ideas of why we ex­ist — and why peo­ple with re­li­gious be­liefs would com­man­deer planes into the Twin Tow­ers.

In “The Na­ture of Ex­is­tence,” Ny­gard doesn’t re­ally an­swer those ques­tions. But he trav­els around the United States, in­ter­view­ing schol­ars, New Age spir­i­tu­al­ists, fun­da­men­tal­ists and the­olo­gians, many of whom have widely di­ver­gent thoughts.

He also takes his cam­era to Is­rael, In­dia, China, Italy and Eng­land, prob­ing the be­lief sys­tems of Taoists, Druids, Hin­dus, Sikhs, Chris­tians, Mus­lims and a va­ri­ety of other re­li­gions.

Ny­gard, who pre­vi­ously di­rected “Trekkies,” presents an ele­men­tary over­view of Filmmaker Roger Ny­gard, cen­ter, went to In­dia and be­yond in search of an an­swer to the ques­tion of why we ex­ist. re­li­gious and non­re­li­gious thought, but his at­tempt to cram all of these be­liefs into a film of 94 min­utes re­sults in a shal­low, cur­sory ex­am­i­na­tion.

Stan­ford physi­cist Leon- ard Susskind, Chi­nese Taoist mas­ter Zhang Chengda and evo­lu­tion­ary bi­ol­o­gist Richard Dawkins end up com­pet­ing for air­time with such char­ac­ters as con­fronta­tional evan­ge­list Brother Jed Smock, Stone­henge druid King Arthur Pen­dragon and Ul­ti­mate Chris­tian Wrestling founder Rob Ado­nis.

These jux­ta­po­si­tions make for a lively — but wildly un­even — philo­soph­i­cal dis­cus­sion.

And in the end, Ny­gard seems to have come away with the com­fort­ing no­tion that the world’s re­li­gions can ex­ist in har­mony, in an at­mos­phere of tol­er­ance — a some­what odd con­clu­sion given the im­pe­tus for the mak­ing “The Na­ture of Ex­is­tence.”

Ny­gard, how­ever, does not ad­dress the pos­si­bil­ity that he was ask­ing the wrong ques­tion through­out his doc­u­men­tary. The biggest — and most an­swer­able — ques­tion just might be “how we ex­ist,” not “why we ex­ist.” Rat­ing: Not rated, adult themes. Run­ning time: 1 hour, 34 min­utes. Theater: Ar­bor.

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