Asking Big Questions
Published: June 18, 2010
Roger Nygard’s documentary “The Nature of Existence” is an extreme example of ADD filmmaking. Religious leaders, gurus, shamans, scientists, philosophers, waitresses and cab drivers flash by, giving quotable answers to Mr. Nygard’s big questions: Why do we exist? Is there a God? Is masturbation a sin?
The film treads ground covered in films like Diane Keaton’s “Heaven” and James Toback’s “Big Bang.” In that context Mr. Nygard’s sitcom instincts (he has directed episodes of “The Office” and “The Bernie Mac Show”) come in handy. His film is no more profound than its forerunners, but it’s quicker, funnier and less pretentious.
Mr. Nygard is admirably catholic in his choice of subjects, who range across religions and non-religions. (The atheist Richard Dawkins winces after catching himself saying, “God knows.”) The serious commentators tend to flash past the quickest, so that more screen time can be devoted to things like Ultimate Christian Wrestling or the affirmation sandwiches at Cafe Gratitude in the hippie enclave of Fairfax, Calif.
One theme that is unaddressed but often visible on screen is the pairing, in the religious-spiritual realm, of smarmy older men and attractive young women. Mr. Nygard himself provides a queasily funny moment when, in a cab late at night, he tells a female Chinese guide-translator, “I hope you dream of a snake tonight.”
The most memorable interviewee is not a guru or scientist but the frighteningly articulate seventh-grade girl who lives across the street from Mr. Nygard and tells him through her braces: “I’m going to let you in on a little secret there. There’s no heaven, no hell. You die. Boom, dead. Like a blindfold on your eyes, and you can’t think anymore.”
Richard Dawkins had better watch his back.
THE NATURE OF EXISTENCE
Opens on Friday in Manhattan.
Directed by Roger Nygard; directors of photography, Mr. Nygard and Paul Tarantino; produced and edited by Mr. Nygard and Mr. Tarantino; music by Billy Sullivan; released by Walking Shadows. At the Quad Cinema, 34 West 13th Street, Greenwich Village. Running time: 1 hour 34 minutes. This film is not rated.
The New York Times