Film Review: Moonage Daydream

By Matthew Moorcroft

Highest Recommendation

  • Directed by Brett Morgen
  • Starring David Bowie
  • PG-13

The loss of David Bowie in 2016 felt like a monumental, almost towering fall. Regardless of how influential and popular he was, Bowie was, ultimately, the artist to end all artists – a fully immersive, always challenging, and yet widely accessible voice that never did the same routine twice in a row. I had just entered college when the news came out about his death and I had only just discovered his music a couple of years prior, and yet the loss still felt immeasurable compared to other celebrity deaths. You could feel in the air and when talking to people that it was almost like we lost God itself.

Moonage Daydream attempts to reconcile those feelings by exploring the man himself, though a traditional documentary it is not. Moonage Daydream, instead, opts for a more sensory oriented experience, mixing concert footage, interviews, and just general never before seen looks at the man himself. In a lot of ways it’s almost an art piece that is piecing itself together as you watch it, trying to find meaning in the grand scale of the universe and it’s own place within Bowie’s life oeuvre.

And I think the film’s intentions are pretty clear, opening on a long quote from Bowie himself about how man himself played God and fundamentally failed at it. Who is exactly do we worship, then, if God is nothing more then a construct of our own imaginations. As the film doesn’t really point out and instead shows through the screaming crowd, the legions of fans, and the almost reverential way that Bowie himself is framed here, Bowie is the God. He is the one that people revered almost religiously, and the mysterious aura that ended up surrounding him because of that made him an otherwise enigmatic figure in celebrity culture maybe unintentionally.

Brett Morgen as a documentarian, going by that logic, feels far more interested then it letting Bowie speak through his art similar to what he wanted to do. Half of this is just imagery and the illusion of a three-act structure, and the audience is left to simply sit and experience it as it comes along. Colours splash on the screen to the beat of the synth or drum, the galaxy turns and spins as Bowie himself dances and performs. There is a mesmerizing, hypnotic quality to Morgen’s editing here and it’s truly one of a kind in that regard.

I am curious to see how this plays out on home media and streaming, however. Half of the fun with this one is seeing it on the biggest screen possible with the loudest sound possible, fully immersed in the bombastic, alien way that Bowie conducts himself throughout this. And sure, the music itself will remain timeless, but this is likely a theater experience kind of film, a once in a lifetime affair that you come to, adore, and then lingers in the back of your mind like a distant memory. And when the curtains fade on the final images here, it’s a beautiful sight, and the pitch sentence that it does end on is exactly what you would want from a Bowie picture like this.

It’s not a full dissection of his life, nor does it need to be. David Bowie’s life was too big, too sprawling to put into a singular 140 minute film, let alone a documentary, but instead Moonage Daydream accomplishes something else entirely. It lets you understand Bowie. It allows you to fully comprehend Bowie. And that alone is a nigh-impossible task, and yet Morgen completed it. What a film.

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