Film Review: AWARE
THE VERY NATURE OF SENTIENCE is at the heart of Frauke Sandig and Eric Black’s absorbing documentary, which asks more questions than it can answer in ways that leave you wanting to learn more. The film follows six very different individuals who are probing the elusive nature of awareness.
Among them: Neuroscientist Christof Koch attempts to grasp how the grey matter of the brain and neurons can come together to create something so expansive and seemingly mystical, a consciousness that gives us a sense of our place and being in the universe; Monica Gagliano studies how plants can be aware of sounds and other beings’ presence, and how they can communicate; Roland R. Griffiths analyzes how psilocybin (the active chemical in magic mushrooms) can help us journey into our own selves and our own minds; and Josefa Kirvin Kulix, a Mayan healer, studies the use of plants in healing and awareness. These are just some of the intriguing people in the film, and directors Sandig and Black do an effective job of presenting their insights so that the picture never feels like a report.
Too many documentaries of this sort rely on a lot of talking head interviews, often interspersed with some gee-whiz effects images to keep us moderately engaged while various experts drone on about their research or their possibly kooky ideas. Aware certainly has its share of talking heads, and it does have its share of effects images as well—sometimes lovely, sometimes cliché. And yes, some of the ideas presented here can be offbeat. But the directors also do a fine job of letting all of these individuals have their space: We get a sense of them as people, and of the world they live in, as well as the sometimes heartbreaking events that led to their pursuing this research. That, in turn, makes us want to hear what they have to say. Ultimately, we get a touching portrait of a variety of different human beings all circling around the fascinating, perhaps unsolvable, problem of the mind.