Prior to November 1993, the fateful month in which I was dragged against my will to witness the cinematic blandness that is Baraka, my film experience had been carefully limited to everything Disney-related on VHS. Since my birth, my mother took it upon herself to protect me of all the evils lurking outside the world of family entertainment as her lifelong mission. She even went as far as to remove the bunny ears antenna off of our TV set. The only channel we could watch was the ongoing battle between black and white hyperactive ants that goes on inside every TV with no signal. And, after a couple of years, even that gets boring. Enter my mom and her handy VHS player. Thanks to her, I grew up tirelessly watching such classics as The Cat From Outer Space, Pete’s Dragon, Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs and the likes, and being blissfully ignorant of ideas such as drugs, suicide, cow tipping or emancipation.
Come November 24th 1993, the date I discovered movies could be loathed with a passion. Barely a month after I turned eight, my father decided it was time for his “little donut” to watch “real movies” and “dive directly into the wonderful world of quality cinema”. The day was coming to its inevitable nightly end and I was getting ready to sneak under the blankets to enjoy a lengthy session of Tetris. Just as the game cartridge crashed for the first time, my dad came bursting with joy into my room, ushering the biggest grin his face had ever felt. After making sure I had survived the shock and that not a single splinter had hurt me, he resorted to screaming nonsense about the most beautiful visual experience available to the common man. His descriptions of what he felt were so vivid I couldn’t help but ask him to tell me exactly what he saw.
Next thing I know, we’re en route to what was once our town’s one and only multiplex. Father managed to built up his excitement to such a staggeringly high level that I found myself sharing his feelings, despite having no idea whatsoever of what I was about to go through. But I felt safe. I figured that, if it made my dad smile so much for so long, it had to be first-rate. My expectations were humongous, and they were increasing with every mile. As I soon learnt, my first mistake was having any expectations at all.
In theory, my father’s was a neat idea. And it could’ve worked perfectly with virtually any movie ever created by a human being so far. Instead of having an experience that would bind me to the world of film for the rest of my life, I got stuck with watching the one picture that made me both hate film altogether, and love my father less.
Once we entered the movie house, I noticed something was wrong. Not only were there about seventeen people, at most, in the whole theatre, but they all looked like washed up hippies from the roughest months of the seventies.
“Dad, who are all these people?”
“Great men and women that know how to appreciate cinema, my boy, that’s what they are, and pretty soon you’ll be one of us, too!”
Unable to understand if “being one of them” was either good or bad, I kept my words to myself. I couldn’t ponder too much on the subject, however. Just as the questions began to arouse in my head, the lights of the theatre went off, the movie started, and an ominous “shhhh” forced us to silence even the words on our brains.
As the movie was projected before us, I could sense the smile of my father continuously growing to inhuman levels of happiness, even managing to poke through my personal space. As I sustained this imaginary damage to my being, I did my best to keep my eyes focused on the screen. After literally a whole minute of staring towards a collection of mountain tops shot from basically the same angle, I found I was far from enjoying the film my father had dragged me to. I dared to disturb the utter gasping silence that had possessed the whole theatre when the title card appeared. “Baraka” it announced.
“What are we supposedly watching, dad?”
“A non-verbal guided meditation, my son. You’ll feel how mother Earth fills you and your soul with an incomparable feeling of peace and decision.”
“Shut up and enjoy it, or I will make you enjoy it!”
And, just as he finished uttering this warning of forceful happiness, I heard the distinctive sound of a lighter being lit up. The sound was quickly followed by a certain smell that was new to my nose. The word “pungent” comes to mind. It was zesty and grassy, like a mixture of herbs and spices, and yet, refreshing at the same time. It reminded me of the smell that came out of my father’s pipe, but different altogether, as it lingered more than tobacco smoke in the air, and had this oily herb scent incorporated. Whenever I asked my father if he knew what it was that permeated the oxygen in the room, he nonchalantly pretended to be unable to hear my voice. The stench soon began to multiply all around us, as if every single person inside that theatre was smoking the same thing at the same time. It took me exactly nine years and eleven months to put a name to this odor. When I finally went away to college, it was reintroduced to me with the moniker of “weed”.
Once my nostrils grew accustomed to the continuous smell of ganja, I could finally focus on the mission at hand, which was to watch the film that injected my rather stern father with an astonishing amount of happiness. Merely fifteen minutes of Baraka had gone by and my eight-year-old self was already longing for it to end. I was bored beyond belief.
What was later revealed to me as a 96 minute film, felt like nothing short of three uneventful hours of wasted life. It’s possible that the marijuana smokescreen around me was affecting the way time elapsed for me, but the fact remains the same. The mere idea of “ending my own life to finish the psychological torture I was being subjected to” was a term unknown to me at the time. As such, I settled with pretending I possessed a time traveling device that could take me right through the end of this torment.
Even today, I’d pay generous amounts of money for the chance of going back to that very day and preventing either the showing, or my subsequent month-long moaning.