National Geographic Society Newsroom

“Samsara”: A Wonderful Wordless Break From Modern Media

Nothing against speech, but after watching the entirely-void-of-words film “Samsara,” I feel like absence has made the heart grow fonder… of absence. Writing about it is therefore kind of hilarious and awkward. If you’ll oblige me, I’ll feel better if I actually start this off non-verbally as well. I’ll just let the text fall apart...

Nothing against speech, but after watching the entirely-void-of-words film “Samsara,” I feel like absence has made the heart grow fonder… of absence.

Writing about it is therefore kind of hilarious and awkward.

If you’ll oblige me, I’ll feel better if I actually start this off non-verbally as well. I’ll just let the text fall apart until its nothththingbut leetttereeersssl naioe lgioiie . alein lg eiglkag. wetiiner iiingalwelk. alkdgljetji weaslkhjt wo….  sdkal we alwkejlke.

!! akdjieeee. aamamamamma aowike eh wlisnihishooin,. alka kmwleiuedlklkag adhlkdnexoalkdnea. Aalknd vaou . slakjerliausothssa aksd welkhadcosmglsd. lsoighaewealsd,vnaksjngasdg.

AGalkwdsjge, a, daioj alkmd,a mamam alaldkd a,d,d,d,d allakoaldlklak. askwej lkthththth ahtkanks ama maknks gi thskkna . slhtkheja ndk you know  ithis sthis is much beeeettter now , thank you. Ok back to regular words.

In "Samsara" during one scene, sand is tan an blowing freely over endless dunes. In the next, it's multicolored and being tapped out in intricate designs by Buddhist monks. Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories.


Instead of being a traditional story-based film, “Samsara” is in the words of its creators (who also made the highly acclaimed “Baraka“) a “guided meditation.” Through moving images of untouched landscapes, modern cities, ancient ruins, and more,  the film presents ideas that lead into and out of one another, without any dialogue, narration, captions or any other verbal communication. “The image is our main character,” said Producer Mark Magidson during a phone interview last week.

Remarkably, the way the images are put together, you really can sense the interplay between your thoughts about what you’re seeing and the choices of the filmmakers in what they’re showing you when. As Ron Fricke, the Director, Cinematographer, and with Mark Co-Editor and Co-Writer put it, “That was the idea, just to get you to flow through it and relax.”

"Samsara" director Ron Fricke and producer Mark Magidson. Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories.


When you do sit back and let your mind wander though these sights, you quickly realize this film is not just about appreciating nature and exotic scenery. “Samsara” is a Sanksrit word meaning “the ever turning wheel of life,” and the themes of birth, death, and rebirth weave in and out of every moment, and on every scale imaginable. We see babies being baptized, chickens in a factory farm, ruins of a town swallowed by sand, ruins of temples rising above the jungle. There are robots, performers, and people who still live as our ancestors did tens of thousands of years ago.

I should admit that I am already prone to spacing out while thinking about this stuff, so I was kind of an easy audience.

In addition to standing out for being wordless, “Samsara” is also a rare experience because unlike many films now shot digitally or on large-format IMAX-style cameras, it was shot on 70mm film. As a cinematographer, Ron couldn’t love it more.

Countless individuals perform an elaborate martial arts exercise in this still from "Samsara". Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories.


“We’re out there with a 70mm camera and it really changes your frame of reference, your consciousness about how you shoot. It’s a big “David Lean” panorama,” he said, referring to the director of epics like “Lawrence of Arabia.” “You can’t hand-hold or run around with it. I really like shooting that way: you know, let the camera rest. 70mm delivers this quality that you just soak up. You don’t get it on a small screen or digitally. It’s gorgeous. There’s nothing else like it.”

The final thing that makes “Samsara” really stand out in our current media landscape is how open it is. Being full of beautiful scenery you’d maybe expect that the scenes of unsavory sides of human culture carry a judgment against mankind or that the whole thing would be wrapped up in some kind of call for social or enviornmental action. But these filmmakers simply show scenes and guide you through topics to reflect upon. That obviously entails a certain amount of commenting on the material, but never judging it. Ron made clear that “the whole theme was impermanence.” To be making political statements would be putting themselves and the film in a very specific place, and if there’s one thing that “Samsara” does, it’s transcend the time and space of your watching of it.

A baby is baptised in a still from "Samsara". Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories.


So the film becomes a kind of open-ended exploration, and through seeing all these varied scenes from around the world, Mark hopes “you begin to see that you are connected–to all of it.”

“Samsara” opens this Friday, August 24 in New York City and Seattle.

Visit for more information about the film and to find more screenings and openings near you.


About National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society is a global nonprofit organization that uses the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world. Since 1888, National Geographic has pushed the boundaries of exploration, investing in bold people and transformative ideas, providing more than 14,000 grants for work across all seven continents, reaching 3 million students each year through education offerings, and engaging audiences around the globe through signature experiences, stories and content. To learn more, visit or follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Meet the Author

Author Photo Andrew Howley
Andrew Howley is a longtime contributor to the National Geographic blog, with a particular focus on archaeology and paleoanthropology generally, and ancient rock art in particular. Over 11 years at the National Geographic Society, Andrew worked in various ways to share the stories of NG explorers and grantees online. He also produced the Home Page of for several years, and helped manage the Society's Facebook page during its breakout year of 2010. He studied Anthropology with a focus on Archaeology from the College of William & Mary in Virginia. He has covered expeditions with NG Explorers-in-Residence Mike Fay, Enric Sala, and Lee Berger. His personal interests include painting, running, and reading about history. You can follow him on Twitter @anderhowl and on Instagram @andrewjhowley. Learn more at