Kelly Yu / Gavel Media

Moonage Daydream and its Misrepresentation of David Bowie as a Philosophical Monolith

From exemplifying his spectacle to appreciating his music, Moonage Daydream by Brett Morgen takes an unorthodox approach to tell the story of the musical megastar and societal phenomenon, David Bowie. Moonage Daydream is esoteric at its core, and it knows it. In the film's defense, it is kind of hard not to be esoteric when it comes to Bowie, since he himself, as shown in the film, is constantly questioning himself and life in general. Instead of taking the form of a linear story, as a normal biographical documentary would do, Moonage Daydream presents itself as an experience rather than a true documentary. Through the film's use of creative visuals and never-seen-before footage of Bowie, it crafts a rollercoaster-like ride that takes you through Bowie’s musical career. This experience-like nature of the film makes it feel more philosophical than biographical, putting Bowie’s thoughts above his story at times.

These philosophical aspects, however, are confusingly interspersed with reality through the inclusion of Bowie’s family life as well as his second marriage to Iman Abdulmajid. Having had a troubled relationship with his parents, Bowie had no real connection to his family besides his older brother, Terry Burns. In the film, Bowie says Burns was the one who got him into alternative music and alternative art, crediting him for a lot of his inspiration growing up. When it came to his wife, Iman, the film dedicated 15 minutes of the final act to Bowie talking about her and how loving her revitalized his life. Through mesmerizing visuals and montages of moments between Bowie and Iman, the love between the two was evident. However, these moments of humanity throughout the film did not feel like a break from the niche subjects surrounding them, but rather jumbled the film even more, putting it in a weird middle ground between "daydream" and reality.

Instead of adding clarity to the philosophy behind Bowie’s musical decisions and life outside of the public eye, such moments of Bowie’s personal life were used only for the audience to infer how Bowie’s private life impacted his career. The film's inclusion of stories from Bowie's world travels while taking a break from music exacerbated this problem. This traveling did not seem to be done with any respect, as a camera crew would follow him everywhere, even into religious temples or families’ homes where intimate religious rituals were taking place. Without providing any context about these moments, the film only seems to use them to show how they inspired Bowie’s music and way of life, making him more at one with himself and calm when making music. It felt like Bowie and the film were using these people and Bowie’s privilege to travel only for the means of their musical and personal benefit, not out of respect for the people and places Bowie visited. 

What Moonage Daydream does a wonderful job of is portraying the spectacle of David Bowie’s music career, from his beginnings as Ziggy Stardust to his end as David Bowie himself. This exploration is done through a lens of pure and unwavering admiration, not allowing for a single criticism. The footage of Bowie traveling the world seemed disrespectful at worst, and out of touch at best. Not to mention, the film did not mention Bowie’s problems with drugs or his taking advantage of minors during his rise to fame, which led to two cases of statutory rape. Instead, Moonage Daydream shies away from these necessary criticisms of Bowie, deciding to simply show his philosophy behind life and making music while grotesquely depicting fans lusting over him without a word about how Bowie took advantage of that lust through his fame. 

Was Bowie’s music impressive and his journey to stardom an impactful one? Yes. But does that mean he is perfect by any means? Not at all. Moonage Daydream only addresses the former, placing David Bowie as a godly figure at the center of its repetitive esoteric theme. Even if the film is meant purely to explore and illuminate "David Bowie’s creative, musical, and spiritual journey" and not be a deep dive into the personal moments of his life, it can still embark on that "journey" from a lens of respect for the people Bowie interacted with and especially the ones he hurt.

There is a way to create a biography that simultaneously shows the impact a person has had on their field and society as a whole while still admonishing that person for the reprehensible wrongs they have committed throughout life—Moonage Daydream is not that biography.

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