I recently had the pleasure of travelling to Mont Saint Michel, the striking, cathedral-topped medieval island off the coast of Normandy, France. I spent some hours walking the twists and turns of its cobblestone paths, engaged in a winding conversation with a writer, a scientist and a well-meaning politician. The sand, sky and sea were our backdrop, the sound of seagulls and waves our music. I felt the wind and water everywhere we walked.
Only, I wasn’t really there. I was comfortable on my sofa watching the film Mindwalk. If you ask me, it was just as good an escape as a daytrip, possibly better—no travel hassle, no throngs of tourists, and I can’t imagine I would have had such a perfectly condensed, intellectually stimulating conversation in real life.
Mindwalk (1990), written and directed by Bernt Amadeus Capra, is based on his brother Fritjof Capra’s philosophy, specifically his 1982 book The Turning Point. Fritjof, a physicist best known for the book The Tao of Physics, advocates ‘systems thinking’, the idea that everything is connected.
Liv Ullmann is cast as Sonia, a Norwegian physicist who shares her ideas about systems with Jack (Sam Waterston), a failed American presidential candidate and much more of a pragmatist. John Heard plays the poet Thomas Harriman, narrator of the film and the bridge between Sonia’s and Jack’s views.
At first, Sonia’s ideas seem dense and maybe even a little desperate. Within minutes of meeting her new companions, she’s talking about a “crisis of perception,” and how Descartes’ mechanistic view is too simplistic for today’s world. Whether or not you have any idea what she’s talking about, both Jack and the viewer stay with her, and eventually we understand that her theories generally boil down to one simple idea. “We’re all part of one inseparable web of relationships,” she tells us, as the characters explore the idea’s effect on politics, science and even personal relationships.
Although it was made 25 years ago, Mindwalk’s ideas resonate more than ever. American demand for cheap cashmere sweaters is leading to the overgrazing of goats in China, which in turn causes pollution in San Francisco. Unrest in the Middle East is causing fatalities and train delays in the Channel Tunnel between France and Britain. Though they may seem unrelated, our challenges are increasingly shared among all of us. A prospect at once both difficult and encouraging.
Mindwalk is shot with slow, simple elegance, offering long and uninterrupted views of ancient Mont Saint Michel and the sea, giving you the space to think. Philip Glass’s score is hypnotic, luring you in with just the first few notes. When the characters share a meal on one of the terraces, I could almost taste the food and wine. I longed to join them.
When Thomas shouted, “What a day!” towards the end of the film, I felt the same. What a day.
Photo credit (header): Paul Williams