Lightning is scary.  The very idea of it…electricity being bolted down from the sky.  Why?  For what reason?  And we’ve all heard stories of the damage its done and we all have been told the tale of that loon who lives in the woods who has been struck by lightening, and lived.

Lightning is also a very beautifully awesome phenomena to behold.  That is the crux of ACT OF GOD, and that is what will bring in audiences.  Jennifer Baichwal‘s documentary has some awe inspiring footage of some of the most fantastic light shows that I have ever seen.  But that seems to be that.

There is no narrator to bring the pieces of Act of God together, nor is there any theme, revelation, discovery, or educational purpose that seems to be had behind the piece. The topic being explored is not just lightning, but more specifically, the destruction it causes…and more specifically than that: the tragedies that have befallen humans due to lightening. But no conclusions seem to be drawn other that to say that most believe that us humans have to admit that we don’t understand it entirely and not only that, but it is most certainly probably just an act of chance.  It does happen, it can have disastrous effects, but that does not mean we have to assign a greater cause or purpose to these bolts. To be fair, she does travel to Mexico where a mother who has lost two of her children discusses with confidence that it was God’s plan for her children to become angels, and who can argue with that.  As an interesting side note, there could be a whole film based on religious healing using women such as  this, as well as another interviewed in Mexico as well who says much of the same thing, but admits she does not always believe that which she says.

Paul Auster is interviewed because he wrote about a near miss he encountered with furious lightning, and others are chosen primarily for similar reasons.  There is a improvisational musician who agrees to undergo an experiment which studies the electric charges of the brain.  While similar conclusions can begin to be drawn, this is really just another loose end of the picture, as no true conclusions, parallels, or what-have-you are taken from the experiment.  You have to pay close attention to even understand the connection as one other than simply—bolts in the sky that look like neurons are similar to the neurons firing in your brain.  This same musician later on improvises a piece, “thinking lightning” while doing so, and it becomes the score to Auster’s lispy reading of his short tale.

That Jennifer Baichwal is a gifted filmmaker is often times hinted at.  I have not seen her “Manufactured Landscapes,” but hear it is a great work.  Act of God features some incredible editing—notice how a slow cross-dissolve makes a set of tree branches become a photo of a victim’s face, as if they were one in the same image gone in and out of focus.  She does this many times in the film, showing either an uncanny ability to merge documentary footage, or uncanny luck (the thematic repetition of the fades makes the latter seem highly unlikely). 

Maybe her film just went limp.  A good thematic idea maybe became a theme that couldn’t be executed to any great or profound conclusion once the footage started rolling.  This could be something you watch because you simply have 76 minutes to kill.  It’s not too trying on the brain and not too weighty, even with the subject matter.  But it is enjoyable.  Because, hey, lightning storms is cool!

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