This week in movies you missed: How hard is it to set yourself up as a guru? Relatively easy, this documentary reveals.
NOTE: Right now, I'm in an indecisive zone when it comes to obtaining Movies You Missed. While I decide whether to commit to a separate Netflix discs plan, I'll be doing this the cheapskate way, watching stuff that's available on Instant. Such as this 2011 flick from director Vikram Gandhi, which played at last March's Green Mountain Film Festival but never in the Burlington area.
What You Missed
Gandhi is a third-generation Indian American who grew up in New Jersey. His parents schooled him in Hinduism, but he was skeptical of religion from an early age. And, he says, every encounter with a guru, whether in the U.S. or in India, just made him more suspicious. Sure, these self-styled holy men were charismatic, but what made others follow them? Were they really giving any spiritual sustenance their followers couldn't give themselves?
To find out, Gandhi devised a Morgan Spurlock-style stunt: He would be a guru. And, of course, film the process. (Watch him on Colbert here.)
He grew his hair and beard, donned traditional garb and started talking in his grandmother's heavy accent. Then he moved to a New Age-friendly city where no one knew him (Phoenix, Ariz.), hired a manager and a yoga teacher and offered his enlightenment services at a local yoga studio.
It didn't take long for Gandhi — now calling himself "Kumaré" — to gather a following of folks who liked to sit with him and chant, "Bluuuue liiiiight. Bluuuuue liiiiiight." ("Blue light meditation" was one of his teachings, along with the apt assertion that "illusion is truth.")
This may sound like a ruthless satire of Americans (especially white, affluent, Sun-Belt Americans) and their gullibility, but it's actually anything but.
The film gives us surprisingly sympathetic portraits of Kumaré's disciples: a stressed-out death-row lawyer; a couple who give their own workshops on the "Law of Attraction"; an addict in recovery. We can see they genuinely need the gentle, nonjudgmental guidance Kumaré provides. Sure, most of what he tells them is just common sense, but if it works...
Gandhi's voiceover suggests that even he fell in love with his Kumaré persona, a kind and nurturing "ideal self." But he's committed to unmasking himself to his followers at the end of the experiment, with all the risks that entails.
Should You Keep Missing It?
Not if you're fascinated by the psychology and culture of religion, as I am. You'll learn a lot here.
That said, I think Gandhi left potentially more sinister aspects of the guru phenomenon out of his equation. Nowhere does he mention that many gurus of all stripes demand hard cash in return for enlightenment, and sometimes exploit their followers' trust to demand great sacrifices. (Look no further than the local case of filmmaker Mac Parker and his silent partner, Lou Soteriou, whose supposed spiritual progression was funded by Vermonters who thought they were funding a movie.)
We're not shown Kumaré taking money from his followers — and it's a good thing, too, since Gandhi was presumably already using them as unpaid supporting cast. I'm glad he didn't portray all gurus as greedy snake-oil salesmen, but it's worth pointing out that those exist, too. Caveat enlightenment seeker.
In Theaters This Week
This week, it's all about Baz Luhrmann giving The Great Gatsby his usual treatment. Also, there's a "Tyler Perry" comedy that Tyler Perry didn't actually write or direct, which may be why it's gotten a few not-awful reviews; and a French biopic about Renoir (that's both the great Impressionist and his son) at the Roxy.
On DVD This Week
We have "Fringe," season 5 (I'm still on season 3, but yay!). Tom Cruise being tough in Jack Reacher. Some genuinely scary moments in Mama. Safe Haven, the Nicholas Sparks movie I was lucky enough to miss. And Starlet, an indie about a porn starlet's friendship with an old woman.
And now, my easily-solvable-by-Google (so don't expect a prize) quiz question of the week:
If you know what to look for, there's a plot spoiler in the recent trailers for The Great Gatsby. What is it?