Immeasurable message of faith
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, Jan. 15, 2010
We're used to Imax movies that focus on the natural wonders of the world. And "Journey to Mecca" -- based on the real-life pilgrimage of a 14th-century Moroccan law student named Ibn Battuta (Chems Eddine Zinoun) -- certainly has its share of swooping panoramic shots of deserts, mountains, waterways and star-filled skies.
The movie, on view at the National Museum of Natural History through March 4, is less concerned with photogenic beauty than with the beauty of tolerance, however. For its mission, really, is nothing short of the demystification of Islam for a Western audience. Just how does it mean to accomplish that? Through the fictionalized account of one man's hajj, or trek to the Muslim holy city of Mecca. That, and a sprinkling of contemporary documentary footage that explores the enduring significance that the journey still holds for many of today's Islamic faithful. Why do they go there? What do they do when they arrive? Those are the questions addressed, with great sensitivity and respect, by "Journey."
The modern Muslim pilgrim may not risk dying of thirst, sand storms or bandits, as the movie's hero does. Today, the hajj is more typically conducted by plane, train or automobile. But the values illuminated by Ibn Battuta's life -- modesty, perseverance, acceptance of others, a love of learning -- are eternal.
Does the tale need to be told in Imax format? Probably not. The museum's 66-by-90-foot screen is made for stuff like the Grand Canyon. And while there's stunning scenery in the movie, it's mostly a backdrop to a narrative that's more about spirit than spectacle. In this case, the subject of the film is something that can't be captured on any size screen.
At the National Museum of Natural History's Samuel C. Johnson Imax Theater. Contains brief swordplay during an attack by bandits. In English with some unsubtitled Arabic and Berber. 44 minutes.