Here's a site with explanations: Koyaanisqatsi
And here's what some students have said about the film:
The city was beautiful at night with the lights, almost as if the stream of people had replaced the natural water streams.
I liked that I was always flying in this movie. It made me feel tall to experience the world through an aerial view.
This would be really neat playing constantly on a big plasma screen somewhere.
I think one of the most interesting features is the correlation between nature and our industrious lives. We see buildings fall like clouds over hills; we see people in their cars flowing through life like rivers; and we see the bleakness and vastness of deserts and the same within our own civilization.
One side of me reacted to the techology imagery as destructive, impersonal, virus activity -- yet there is also a peaceful element about the harmony of machines and people working, building and progressing.
I was thinking of the negative opinion of vehicles, planes specifically -- but! most of those shots could be taken thanks to planes and/or helicopters. I hate cities, so the massive amounts of human beings jammed into one area is what disturbs me the most.
It's almost as if earth is a foreign planet.
At the first scenes I began to feel completely insignificant.
I love being able to see all these things from a new perspective, or to see them for the first time. I'm not sure what it all means, but I'm pretty sure it's art!
I think the film shows sort of an idealistic picture of nature (no bear attacks or monkeys throwing feces) contrasted with first the ugliness and then the bustling beauty of humanity. The music is very hypnotic and sets a grim Orwellian mood at first followed by a busy "Flight of the Bumblebee" kind of mood.
No control, no grip. All of these immense forces at play in both nature and the creations of humankind strike me as far beyond our collective grasp. The river cuts through thousands of years of soil and bedrock in such large quantity that its collective will seems beyond the power of anything. Even the towering dam that struggles to hold back its flow is, in any long timeline, inevitably going to lose: the force is too large and too complicated. The harnessing of energy, the production of things, happens at such on large scale as to have irreversible impact. The clouds cascade over the peaks with as much blind forward momentum as the crowds shuffling through the streets. No control, no grip, and especially no I.