The Wrap's Steve Pond writes:
"Moonage Daydream begins with a quote in which Bowie talks about Friedrich Nietzsche’s late 19th century proclamation that God is dead and that humans must become gods themselves. It’s an appropriate enough opening, considering that Bowie’s most famous character, Ziggy Stardust, flirted with Nietzsche-style notions of man and Superman."
True enough, but for a fuller sense of Bowie's beliefs, he also said:
"I wanted to express... a wish to destroy everything that we have ever created. When Nietzsche said 'God is dead,' it was a culmination of all the thoughts of the previous century... people were so aggrandized with their sense of science and the aftermath of the enlightenment and how man himself could improve the world. Then of course, it led to things like... Einstein’s discovery that time and space aren’t what we thought they were, and Freud in understanding another kind of human inside the human. All of these things culminated in the idea that everything we’ve known before was wrong. Everything. So we start the 20th century with this clean slate. We are now the Gods. And the greatest thing that we could do as God during that century was create the bomb. That was what we were good at doing. And I think that in itself... the repercussions of what we had done by standing in for this idea of morality, creating it all ourselves, so destroyed our fix on what we should be doing in life that we’re still living through that chaos right now. We have no spiritual lives to speak of... there is no direct sense of what our purpose is anymore. Now that may be a good thing because it may show itself to be that we, in fact, don’t have a purpose. Are we big enough or mature enough to exist like that? Are we mature enough to accept that there is no 'plan,' there is no 'going somewhere,' there is no gift of immortality at the end of this if we evolve? Maybe we have to exist and live on the idea that we have one day at a time to live... and can we do that? Because if we could do that, we may be serving some, really, some great thing."
“I was young, fancy free, and Tibetan Buddhism appealed to me at that time. I thought, ‘There’s salvation.’ It didn’t really work. Then I went through Nietzsche, Satanism, Christianity… pottery, and ended up singing. It’s been a long road.”
And in his final years:
“I honestly believe that my initial questions haven’t changed at all. There are far fewer of them these days, but they’re really important. Questioning my spiritual life has always been germane to what I was writing. Always. It’s because I’m not quite an atheist and it worries me. There’s that little bit that holds on: Well, I’m almost an atheist. Give me a couple of months. That’s the shock: All clichés are true. The years really do speed by. Life really is as short as they tell you it is. And there really is a God—so do I buy that one? If all the other clichés are true… Hell, don’t pose me that one.”
I share the above because Moonage Daydream revels in its own chaos, a theme Bowie explored the entirety of his 53-year career, often bobbing and weaving through and around spirituality, an "energy force beyond our own understanding," as he described it, and that's what's on display here.
We get scant biographical data in the film, which mostly serves to reinforce how unimportant his, say, 'musical influences' were, or his 'family dynamics' and such. Bowie had limited interest in revisiting the Brixton of his youth, and when asked whether he was "an average child, with a normal childhood," he offers up very little color: "I did what most there do: Attended school, ate."
Mostly, Bowie was an artist, his mind and hands always busy with pottery, painting, sculpting, writing, acting, filming, entertaining, and, of course, creating clothing and characters within which he—an introvert—could hide. He knew all this very early on, having left home at age 16 to "go and experience more than any one person ever had."
Bowie was also a nomad, always leasing, never buying, and Moonage Daydream reminds us of the fact decade after decade as we see him move from London and New York to Los Angeles for two years, then West Berlin for two years, then Vietnam, Singapore, Japan. On and on it goes, David migrating from one belief to another, one art form to another, one apartment to another, one culture to another... for DECADES.
And so, while I learned lots and was endlessly fascinated by Brett Morgen's trippy, bedazzled glitter-ball-of-a-doc featuring one of the most alien of all men who ever fell to earth, I left feeling really empty and sad.
Not because Bowie wasn't an incredible artist with a virtually incomparable career and also a family man in the end who found contentment and peace, but because for too many years he simply appeared lost, adrift like some bottle in the sea whose only purpose in life is to ride with the currents and rise or fall with the tides.
I won't project any further my own belief system upon his memory, other than to say the documentary is entertaining, buzzing, colorful, and incredible—and you can keep it.
A luminary, David was among the most visionary, articulate, creative, compelling, thoughtful life forms to ever walk upright. He did things his own way, and I know he loved mightily and was loved mightily in return. I only hope the talents, sojourns, adulation, and privilege of living so freely proved to be sufficient in the end.