Dominic Cobb’s review published on Letterboxd:
Koyaanisqatsi, meaning, "life out of balance" seems to be a suitable title for the message that director Godfrey Reggio intended to get across in this film, which from what I understood, was that humans should give as much as we take.
Of course that message isn't given clearly, and I'm not entirely certain that was the basis of the message. Perhaps it was something like, don't take at all, or something like that. Without a clear narrator it's hard to tell. It's difficult to totally decipher anything from a wordless film like this.
If you take the basis of what makes a film, be that a documentary, a silent film, fiction or what not, and subtract words totally (other than chanted in music), then you end up relying totally on cinematography and music, so your cinematographer and musician better do one heck of a good job. Here, we have a stunning musician, Philip Glass, paired with a not quite outstanding but nonetheless powerful cinematographer, Ron Fricke. Not that all the footage in the film is original; some is taken from historical clips and what not.
In Koyaanisqatsi, the closest we have to a narrator is Philip Glass' excellent score. It provides the emotional cues, it lets us know when the filmmakers want us to be shocked, in awe, horrified, or astonished. The film seems to come with a very clear environmentalist message by about ten or twenty minutes in, as we hear marvelous and beautiful tunes as we gaze over glorious views of creation, and then loud, disruptive and absolutely negative-sounding tones as we see man-made machines and smoke rising from pillars.
But as it continues, the film seems to be contradicting itself, as we again hear awe-inspiring music as we see great, tall, reflective glass buildings. This is where I see something of a message that implies that we should give what we take. But again, I can't be sure. At times, the musical cues seemed oddly placed, as we hear these dissonant sounds as we gaze over things that I find to be astonishing.
Certainly, Reggio's message here cannot be that man shouldn't make things. These things we create help people often. Machines entertain, they make life easier. The cars rushing over highways get people where they need to go faster. And yet Reggio seems to look at these with disgust.
Pretty much at least thirty minutes of the film, right in the middle, is taken up with countless time lapses. Immense crowds rushing in and out of building and subways, assembly lines putting together television sets and automobiles, people at work. The music is rapid and exciting, but in my opinion it goes on for a bit too long and becomes at one point overwhelming and it all becomes a blur. Perhaps this was Reggio's intention, that we see that humanity's need for instant gratification is futile and will do us no good. Yet again, I can't say.
Nonetheless, regardless of the purpose of the film, the overtly environmentalist message, or the annoyed gazes of citizens at the camera, Koyaanisqatsi still serves as an incredibly unique cinematic experience, something of a poem in a sense. An intriguing experimental film, if nothing else.