It's quite astounding how Baraka could convey such an emotional message without words. The director's choice of images underscored man's sinfulness, his need for redemption, and implicitly, his need for God's grace (and/or connection with a supreme being).
The director's images are bleak; his outlook seems fatalistic in that he deliberately chose the broken, the down trodden, the poor, the bleary, war-torn landscapes. He could have just as easily chosen neutral or positive images: gardeners harvesting fruits and vegetables, people exploring mountain vistas on horseback, modest cities, towns, suburbs, railroads, bridges, et cetera. Instead, he chose to show people and animals scavenging through mountains of trash, mules pulling heavy loads and worked to the point of exhaustion, and dilapidated old shacks in which the extremely poor reside. This wasn't merely a cross-section of humanity — it was a cross-section of the bleaker aspects of humanity.
Even the neutral images of traffic and people — sped up to several times their normal pace — were shown as if to say "we're no different from the animals." Images of baby chickens in a factory are toggled with images of commuters packed on subway cars and escalators. An arial view of people at a house of worship are shown as to resemble worker bees or ants scurrying about.
One scene I felt was particularly effective was the way the director humanized the city. It was subtle, but the time-lapse shot of the city at night featured a soundtrack that resembled breathing! Yet the breath was mechanic, almost like an amalgamation of factory/machine sounds. This "lifeless breath" was perfectly in time with the traffic flow and it made for an interesting shot.
Baraka lays out for the viewer man's sinful nature, and presents religion as a way for man to reconnect with the divine.
Baraka asks "why"
Every time I watch the film, I get annoyed that the director chose to include so many "bad" images: people rooting through trash, oil fields on fire, the homeless. I get annoyed until I remember that religions are not founded upon human perfection — we institutionalize and participate in religions to fill a void. This void is caused by our sin, our separation from God, greed, lust, selfishness. Mostly selfishness. Baraka is a worldwide story of redemption — a store of people finding God. Baraka doesn't ask "how" as much as it asks "why". Baraka presents a voyeur version of religions — you get to see what's going on, but the specific details don't really matter.
The Buddhist monks stood out especially. I am fascinated by their lifestyle and I honestly enjoyed reading Lester's account —especially the parts on Zen Buddhism. I feel as if I have a special affinity for them.
I also enjoyed the time-laspse cinematography — especially the city streets. I could probably never get tired of watching those cars and people hurry by! Sometimes when I'm on the DC subway, I find myself jokingly saying "faster! faster!", especially when I'm trying to change lines or navigate through crowds of tourists and professionals with chronic sleep deprivation. When I viewed the subway scenes in Baraka, I thought, "people are voluntarily doing this."
I know I'm biased in this regard, but I felt the director was East-centric and didn't include enough scenes of Christianity. I don't recall seeing any Protestants, and don't remember seeing worshippers in church. The only time the director zoomed in on a depiction of Christ, the picture had what looked like paint spilled on it and it was in decay. Editorializing? Perhaps.