Luminaries is an introduction to the idea of Pantheism, by way of a mural located in Venice Beach, featuring the eye-catching profiles of the philosophy’s most notable heralds, which includes Albert Einstein, Emily Dickinson and Friedrich Nietzsche. The concept is so: God is not an old man sitting over the game board of existence, studiously moving pieces, but rather an ineffable, apathetic force that inhabits every living thing and every law of nature. In fewer words, it’s a way of blending religion with science.
If this sounds interesting and you’re looking forward to having it thoroughly examined, then you might want to look elsewhere—I would suggest a book and a fireplace. This short documentary, clocking in at about 14 minutes, merely skims the surface of Pantheism. Its slew of talking heads are not experts on the subject—nor do they claim to be, I’m sure—but, instead, are directly related to the construction of the mural. That said, the film will surely pique your interest and leave you wanting more, which is, all things considered, a worthy outcome.
“…never as fascinating as the philosophy or the people it celebrates.”
Ed Moy, the director, attacks his subject on three fronts: interviews, archival footage and some sexy panoramas of the mural itself. This is all well and good, but he does throw up a quote every now and then to put a point on something, which will suddenly make you feel like you’re watching a PowerPoint presentation. In spite of this, the film has a good flow, guiding us from the construction of the mural to why the mural exists in the first place. As I said before, the film doesn’t dig too deeply in any one direction; it handpicks a few of the mural’s faces and briefly details their unique relation to Pantheism. At 14 minutes, I would have preferred to have delved into one specific figure—Spinoza, probably, as he popularized the philosophy. That way, we can cover the attractive mural and get a firm grip on Pantheism, as opposed to poking it from different angles.
“…will surely pique your interest and leave you wanting more…”
While the film doesn’t go into this, the thought did occur to me. The one thing all the people featured on the mural have in common is that they were mavericks and freethinkers. It makes perfect sense they would be turned off by organized religions—or organizations of any sort—that encourage groupthink and turn toward an individualistic form of faith. This is one of the many intellectual tangents that your mind might go down after seeing the film.
Luminaries is never as fascinating as the philosophy or the people it celebrates. It wouldn’t feel out of place as a video in a museum lobby, lubricating your mind for the really heady stuff to come. When put within that prism, the film is a satisfactory primer to a subject that stimulates the desire to understand. Plus, any film that might spur interest in our great thinkers is fine by me.
Luminaries (2017) Directed by Ed Moy.
2.5 out of 4