January 24, 2012

"Microcosmos": The Hidden World of Insects

The camera is high above a pleasant, bright meadow, then swoops down lower and lower until we are in grass, towering above us as in a fecund tropical jungle. An insect climbs a stem with gravity-defying grace, and we are now in a microcosm of our everyday world. The 1996 French film 
Microcosmos: The Grass People shows us usually unseen miniature life, full of color and beauty, and sheer strangeness; the technical prowess of the macro photography is awe inspiring.

This marvel of a caterpillar looks like it was put together by a very hip, inventive fashion designer, with vivid pink on its head repeated in the tips of a kind of double tail. This should have been the design for the Alice in Wonderland caterpillar.

Another caterpillar has colors that mimic leaf and stem, part of nature's protective mechanism.

The film presented insects that are familiar to us, along with the surprises. This sequence showed a bee entering a flower, and as it pushed inwards, the pollen bearing anther dips downward to deposit pollen on the bee.

Not only plant fertilization is filmed, but also a remarkable view of a pair of snails (mollusks, not insects) mating to swelling music, with all the romance and passion of any steamy sex scene. There is a marvelous wit in this film, with all the drama we expect from a nature film featuring much larger species.

We see sinuous mating, and we see a vigorous battle between two beetles.

A creature is born, emerges from a delicate egg and then turns around and eats it.

There is the terror of death, as an insect is entrapped by a carnivorous plant...

or is amazingly wrapped by a spider, whose silk comes pouring out of its body.

There is the storage of food, with ants dragging seeds many times larger than themselves into an underground chamber. Here is the true to life illustration of the La Fontaine fable of the grasshopper and the ant.

And there are tales of endurance, as insects survive floods and drought. In a display of clever perseverance, a beetle whose ball of dung was caught up on a stick manages to dig out around it, giving itself leverage to push the ball free. There were quite a few tense moments as I rooted for the beetle's success.

At the end of the film, an embodiment of light emerges from a dark watery background. It rises higher and begins to spread its fine legs. I feel as though I am watching an apotheosis, an exalted moment in insect life as something emerges from primordial ooze and takes shape. In a film with many moments of stunning beauty, this caused me to sit with mouth agape. It wasn't until I researched the film later (the cast of characters was in French, and not translated) that I discovered that this was a mosquito hatching! I think I will carry the images of the mosquito as goddess the next time the pesky little things are biting. This film reminded me that the diversity and ingenuity of life is greater than I realize, and even more full of wonder.


  1. Wow, gorgeous!

  2. science fiction pales beside these!

  3. This is the way I like to look at insects...through the macro lens.

  4. I'm happy you enjoyed these. My images are only the tip of the iceberg; the film is rich with lots more variety and strangeness.