The Holier It Gets (1999)

Genres - Culture & Society  |   Sub-Genres - Biography, Interpersonal Relationships, Religions & Belief Systems, Sociology  |   Run Time - 53 min.  |   Countries - Canada, United Kingdom  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Synopsis by Josh Ralske

Documentarian Jennifer Baichwal (Let It Come Down: The Life of Paul Bowles) delves into her own family history with The Holier It Gets. The video, originally produced for Canadian television, tells the story of Baichwal's trip to India to fulfill the wishes of her late father, who had asked for his ashes to be submerged in the Ganges in a traditional Hindi ritual. This desire surprised his children, who never thought of their father as a religious man. Baichwal goes into her family history, describing how her father, an Indian doctor, married her mother, a British woman, and emigrated to Canada to raise a family. Baichwal travels back to India with her brother and two sisters, while her husband, Nick de Pencier, documents the trip on video. The family is shocked at the chaos and squalor of Bombay when they arrive, and Baichwal begins to wonder whether or not they will find the spiritual fulfillment they seek on their journey. Arriving at the city of Varanasi, which was recommended to them as a holy city in which to perform their ceremony, the siblings are dismayed to find the Ganges filthy and crowded, and decide they have to balance their British side (a desire for cleanliness and privacy) with their Indian side (the spirit of their father's request). They travel up the Ganges into the Himalayas, on a harrowing drive, to find a more tranquil spot. But in Badrinath, a Hindu priest tells them that the tributary they seek is not the proper place to submerge their father's ashes. The more rivers that flow into the Ganges, it is explained to them, "the holier it gets."



Canada, family-history, father, fulfillment, Hinduism, holy, homeland, immigrant, India (subcontinent), journey, ritual, river