While its intentions are pure and its goals often on mark with its presentation of a world both banal and spectacular, Life in a Day cannot help but delve into pretentious territory, creating an equally engrossing and frustrating viewing experience.
What were you doing on the 24th of July, 2010? That is what producer Ridley Scott and director Kevin Macdonald asked the YouTube universe, who replied in kind with 80,000 submissions adding up to 4500 hours of footage, the best of which has been edited and presented here.
If the goal of Life in a Day was to prove what a splendid, crazy world we live in, then it certainly does just that. But this is old news.
What Life in a Day really does is prove that we are living in the age of the voyeur. We can’t help but view what everyone else is doing, and people are more than happy to reply in kind. This can result in some immensely personal confessions on camera.
Macdonald asks his participants three questions: What is in your pocket? What do you love? And, what do you fear?
The pendulum swings wide. One young woman has a gun in her pocket. One man loves his family, his land, and his God. One young girl fears that there might not be a God.
Often what might seem mundane is quite the opposite. A shot of a messy apartment in Japan quickly gives way to a touching moment as a bereaved man and his young son light a candle for his recently deceased wife. A scene of revellers gearing up for a day of dance and sun turns into a catastrophe, as we witness a stampede of human bodies and quickly gather that it’s the Love Parade disaster.
Yet somewhere along the way Macdonald loses trust in the material and forces the films mantra- that life is full of little miracles and messy moments- down the throats of his viewers.
The constant return to three subjects of interest – a mother after surgery, a group of Eastern European farmers, and a South Korean man travelling across the world on his mountain bike – grates rather than inspires.
Then there is the choice of ending Life in a Day with a young woman venting her frustrations of not being able to participate in the project (on the irony!), with a rant about life not revolving around one person, and other choice wankery. Surely Macdonald didn’t intend on ending his documentary with a plea for pity?
There are many ways Life in a Day could have gone. As it stands, it is a film that falls short of its ambition. Much like life itself.