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Minimalism: Freedom in the little things

Robert Beiler

Associate Opinion Editor

Minimalism is an art style that in the past decade or so has been adopted into a lifestyle philosophy as well. The basic tenant is to get rid of things in your life that are distracting you so you can focus on what’s most important to you. Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things is a sort of crash course in this.

The film was the brain child of Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus, co-founders of The Minimalists.com. They are not the first to use the term, but became some of the most prolific in the field of writers about the subject. The two have been writing essays on their blog together since 2010. They did this after walking away from high paying corporate jobs to focus on having a simpler life. The pair wrote multiple books on the subject before creating the documentary, where they served as executive producers and as principal subjects.

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There is certainly a large variety of voices within this film. It features ABC News’ Dan Harris, whose on-air panic attack led him to look at meditation and simplification. Blogger Joshua Becker features in a sequence about how to balance the concept with a large family life. The film also features prominent neuroscientist Sam Harris and a number of psychologists to explain how consumption effects the individual and the culture.

The film grazes the surface of the concept of minimalism, diving heavily into the aspects relating to material goods. This is handled from a fairly heavy handed American viewpoint. Consumption culture is placed front and center in the film. This includes the growth of the suburban housing, “keeping up with the Jones’” mentality, as well as the increasing availability of cheaper plastic products. The increase in fast fashion brands is also discussed as well as growing interest in the tiny house movement.

The cinematography is top notch. While the film does not do anything particularly extraordinary, the visuals are breathtaking. Director Matt D’Avella composes many shots in a way that is slightly jarring, using negative space to really make the subject stand out. One of the scenes features Millburn alone in a desert landscape while reading one of his essays out loud. It is a painful passage connecting with his mother’s death which coincided with his divorce. These are placed as driving factors to both his consumeristic habits and subsequent move to minimalism. As he goes on, shots of Ikea products are intercut in a manner that harkens back to Fight Club. The lack of other items on screen in the desert drive his point home.

In terms of pacing, the film can be a bit jarring. Sequences don’t exactly flow together. The topics come off much like blog posts. They relate, but they are too distinct. This hurts the overall quality of the film. In a way, this might be to force you to stop and think about it. Given that the film was only given a short theatrical run and primarily became available online, perhaps this was the intention. To have those watching stop, think, and even discuss before continuing.

The soundtrack is fantastic, being almost entirely instrumental besides the end credits. VVE, the band who produced the music, did a fantastic job at setting the tone while still keeping the music simplistic (which helps continue the premise of the film).

Because it only scrapes the surface of minimalism, the appears to harp on some of the same concepts over and over again. In a blog form this works, but when done in a documentary it comes off repetitive. However, the film gives a clear call to action. It asks people to be more mindful of their consumption not only for the benefit of their wallets, but in how it effects everyone around them and the planet they share. So it’s hard to say the message isn’t worth hearing a few times.

Grade: B

Time: 118 minutes

Available on Vimeo, iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play