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New Age navel-gazing doesn’t get much more deliberate than Shaun Monson’s Unity, an insistent appeal for greater human understanding and an end to violence and war. Assembled from hundreds of video clips and still images from dozens of different sources, Monson’s second feature-length film approximates an actual documentary, but incorporates scant original material. If it weren’t for the marquee-name actors recruited to intone passages in voiceover from his original script, it’s unlikely that Monson’s film would attract much notice, as evidenced by a brief theatrical window that isn’t likely to boost visibility sufficiently to make ancillary versions much more attractive.
Monson divides the film into chapters like “Cosmic,” “Body,” and “Heart” to lend his clip compilation some structure. These labels are intended to approximate humanity’s potential spiritual progress along an arc from ignorance to enlightenment. Initially the film focuses on the cosmic origins of the universe, emphasizing the unique characteristics of our planet and the shared heritage of all life on earth that makes humans and other beings “Not the same, but equal” according to Jennifer Aniston’s very brief contribution.
Unity goes on to consider humanity’s often reprehensible treatment of animals and our seemingly unquenchable appetite for conflict with one another. “Why are we still such savages? Are we not all earthlings?” queries Rutger Hauer. Monson suggests that ego and acquisitiveness are two of the most significant factors driving international and inter-personal strife, even if we are “strangers of the same blood,” as he awkwardly phrases it.
Tracing the origins of democratic revolutions, civil rights advocacy and the emergence of universal human rights as a postwar concept articulated by the United Nations, Monson concludes that the solution to resolving human conflict and respecting our fellow planetary inhabitants is to develop more compassion as part of a quest for the eventual emergence of “Homo spiritus,” a spiritually awakened human species that would represent a “new branch of human evolution.”
His dubious grasp of evolutionary principles aside, Monson offers few new ideas on resolving the world’s conflicts, instead repurposing the conclusions of history’s greatest thinkers, much as he reappropriates other filmmakers’ footage. Some of the data presented is 25 years out of date and the vast majority of the content is presented at a basic high school level that my have many better-informed viewers rolling their eyes.
While recruiting 100 celebrity narrators for the film, including Deepak Chopra, Marion Cotillard, Dr. Dre, Ellen DeGeneres, Ben Kingsley, Helen Mirren and Joaquin Phoenix (who narrated Monson’s Earthlings documentary) may indeed set some type of record for talent participation, the fact that most of them speak for only a couple of minutes at most as the text of their monologues scrolls onscreen may serve to diminish the experience for some fans.
Monson does succeed in editing the frequently dissimilar footage together into a fairly attractive package, although an animated sequence depicting the power of cosmic forces and another illustrating an historical timeline of human events feel rather too forced and self-consciously showy.
Production company: Nation Earth
Director-writer: Shaun Monson
Producers: Melissa Danis, Shaun Monson
Executive Producers: Dieter Paulmann, Alec Pedersen, Babak Cyrus Razi
Music: Yuko Sonoda
Editor: Shaun Monson
No rating, 99 minutes
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