The most recognizable of Taylor's subjects to average viewers is likely Princeton philosopher and social-critic Cornel West who's given pride of place by appearing at the beginning, middle and end of documentary. West sits in the backseat of Taylor's old Saab as she chauffeurs him through the streets of New York. Leaning over the seat, rattling off ideas in furious bursts reminiscent of Charlie Parker's bebop, West lays the film's groundwork expounding on the importance of confronting oneself, searching for truth and rejecting romanticism.
The motif of philosophy in the streets works to vary degrees. Noted Australian ethicist Peter Singer's critique of consumerism is made concrete by his stroll outside the boutiques of Fifth Avenue, and Princeton Philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah's discourse on muticulturalism is enhanced by his stroll through an international airport, and Slovenian philosopher and psychoanalyst Slavoj Žižek, who starred in Taylor's prior documentary Žižek! and Sophie Fiennes' The Pervert's Guide to Cinema, vividly engages the imagination when he dons a red safety vest to wander through a London trash dump while counter-intuitively arguing that tackling impending environmental catastrophe requires that we become more alienated from nature not less. On the other hand, neo-Marxist Michael Hardt's discourse on democracy and revolution loses momentum and focus as he runs a rowboat aground in Central Park.
The other segments are strolls with deconstructionist Avital Ronell addressing the dangers of dogmatism, law professor Martha Nussbaum reassessing the notion of the social compact, and queer theory pioneer Judith Butler conversing with Taylor's sister, painter and disability-rights activist Sunaura Taylor about notions of body and our social obligations to one another.
While Examined Life is an often engaging sampling of the theories of a number of thinkers in their own words, it is not a representative cross-sample of contemporary philosophy. All of Taylor's subjects are postmodern and progressive in their worldview reflecting Taylor's own sensibilities. Thus, though there are ideological differences among the subjects, they're too subtle or diffuse to prompt the audience to weigh them against one another, and could lead Taylor's 16-year-old ideal viewer to wrongly assume that these viewpoints represent the scope of contemporary philosophy.
The stereo audio sounds clear and dynamic, and optional English subtitles for the hearing impaired are provided.