Review: The Nature of Existence DVD

The Nature of Existence DVD boxSTUDIO: Walking Shadows | DIRECTOR: Roger Nygard
RELEASE DATE: 11/23/10 | PRICE: DVD $24.95, Two-Disc Special Edition $29.95, Blu-ray $29.95
BONUSES: deleted scenes
SPECS: NR | 94 min. | Documentary | widescreen | stereo | German, French and Italian with English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

One might balk at the title The Nature of Existence, which implies that the film is billing itself as an explanation of our place in the world, the meaning of life and all those seemingly unanswerable questions. Is it going to be an esoteric bore? Is it going to push some obscure philosophical point of view the way a Michael Moore (Capitalism: A Love Story) film pushes a political one? Thankfully, The Nature of Existence does none of these.

By TV director and sometimes-documentarian Roger Nygard, known for his subculture exploration in the Trekkies films, The Nature of Existence feels more in the vein of such entertaining documentaries as The Aristocrats and King Corn. The DIY perspective and lighthearted attitude give The Nature of Existence a wholesome indie authenticity.

Like all documentaries of this genre, it starts with a question (in this case, “What is the point of human existence?”) and follows a charismatic auteur as he goes to absurd lengths and interviews dozens of experts and celebrities to get an answer. The best segments come from a loony bayou eccentric, an aggressive campus evangelist, a couple of cynical physicists and a giggling holy man. At first examination, it seems that Nygard is choosing his subjects at random, but taken together, they represent high and low culture, east and west, liberal and conservative, and serve as an effective sample of opinions on the matter.

The film can begin to feel cluttered and overlong toward the end, as it fails to twist a functional but unchanging format. It attempts to organize itself the wrong way. At first, it’s split up by which question or topic is being addressed, but later on, it’s organized by Nygard’s location (he travels across the world) and by who he’s talking to. The breakup and scattering of each personality’s screen time prevents us from getting to know or like anyone as well as we otherwise might.

Overall, though, Existence is successful. It might appeal to those who liked the director’s earlier work, but the prominence of Nygard himself on the marketing material could prevent folks from catching the famous people who are interviewed ( authors Orson Scott Card and Richard Dawkins jumped out to me). It’s food for thought, and I can never get my fill of that.

The two-disc special edition and Blu-ray editions include an additional 82 minutes of deleted footage, all of which provide even more opinions to ponder.


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About Alex

Alex Kikuchi loves movies of every size and variety and has fancied himself a film critic ever since Mystery Science Theater made it look so easy when he was a kid in the 1990s.