Filmmaker Werner Herzog’s documentary Wheel of Time focuses on a Buddhist festival in India that thousands flock to every couple years. Some walk, some come by bus, some slowly make their way prostration by prostration (see YouTube video below).
One of the main rituals is making an intricate sand mandala (painting) symbolizing the universe. While 12 monks work on this in shifts from dawn to midnight, outside hundreds of pilgrims pray, conduct theological debates and such.
I’m sorry, call me a philistine, but the watching this film was like watching paint dry. I watched 15 minutes and took a break. The next day I tried again. I gave up after 40 minutes. I did find the setting and clothing colorful and exotic. I found watching the monks make the mandala mesmerizing, but I kept looking for a theme or narrative that would compel me to stick with the movie, and that never came. I don’t know if it’s the more unified narration or what, but I realized most Discovery Channel National Geographic documentaries were better. So I stopped watching. I needed more than the exotic.
Herzog interviews the Dalai Lama, and that didn’t grab me. The D.L., whom I’ve thought is interesting and wise, just talked about the obvious, i.e. how each of us sees ourselves as the center of the universe. True, but a college freshman who’s taken Developmental Psychology or learned a bit about Freud can tell us that.
I kept wondering why the director of Fitzcarraldo made this little film. I’m still not sure.