A portrait of Alan Jacobs
Know Thyself. All else will be known to thee of its own accord. Discriminate between the undying, unchanging, all-pervading, infinite Atma and the ever-changing, phenomenal and perishable universe and body. Enquire, ‘Who am I?’ Make the mind calm. Free yourself from all thoughts other than the simple thought of the Self or Atma. Dive deep into the chambers of your heart. Find out the real, infinite ‘I’. Rest there peacefully for ever and become identical with the Supreme Self.
—Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi
A SINGULAR MAN is an artistic homage to one of my dearest friends and mentors, Alan Jacobs, President of the Sri Ramana Maharshi Foundation, London. A published poet and author, Alan has spent his entire life devoted to the pursuit of Self-enquiry and the mystical path.
Shot on an EBM Bolex camera using 16mm black and white film stock, A Singular Man is an attempt to capture the very essence of a life lived in the present moment and the profound realization that beauty, joy and silence form the very substratum of even the most ordinary of daily things.
Filmed on location in the south-east of England and Tiruvannamalai, India, we witness Alan going about his humble life—listening to music, writing letters, offering obeisance at the feet of Siva—all enacted with effortless grace and dignity, interspersed with moments of charm, compassion and humour.
Oscillating between Alan’s London home set amidst the surrounding rural countryside and the Ramanasramam in Tamil Nadu, A Singular Man is the journey of a spiritual traveller as he delves deep within the chambers of his innermost self. And yet, as we empathize with his transformational odyssey, we too are metamorphosed into a place of transcendental peace.
I chose to shoot A Singular Man on a Bolex rather than a digital camera owing to the artisanal nature of the project. I hoped that the process of producing a work of art would be reflected in the very quality of the images—noise and grain, ticks and scratches, smears and flares—forming an integral element to the visual representation of life as we know it: a nonlinear, seemingly imperfect unfoldment. A dream.
Furthermore, the chromatic nuances of black and white cinematography enable a deeply arresting portrait of sentient life—birds, monkeys, dogs, human beings—in relation to the surrounding cosmos. Specific shots have the stillness of a photograph, augmenting the sensation that all there ever can be in this existence is the simple apperception of the suchness of this.
In contradistinction to mainstream cinema, I also sought to explore a more minimalist, authentic lyricism to cinematography and the genre of “moving image”. Drawing from the tradition of auteurs Andrei Tarkovsky, Yasujirō Ozu, Béla Tarr and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, A Singular Man is the depiction of the transience and temporality of the phenomenal world and the bittersweet feeling of what it means to live a singular life.
With majestic scenes of Arunachala mountain forming the backdrop as the film draws to a close, Alan imbibes the sacred atmosphere of southern India and merges with the Self. As the Arunachala Mahatmyam, translated from Sanskrit into Tamil by Sri Ramana Maharshi, says:
Arunachala is truly the holy place. Of all holy places it is the most sacred! Know that it is the heart of the world. It is truly Siva himself! It is his heart-abode, a secret kshetra [a site of pilgrimage]. In that place the Lord ever abides in the hill of light named Arunachala.
I must thank all those dear friends who kindly contributed financially to the making of the film. If you feel similarly moved to make a donation in order to mitigate the production costs of A Singular Man, please head over to our Donate page via the button below.
All gifts, no matter how small, are deeply appreciated. Thank you.