Sunday, October 30, 2011

Finding Meaning in "Finding Joe"

On Friday after work, I headed downtown to see the documentary film Finding Joe, which was supposed to be the Movies and Meaning selection this month, but due to conflicting schedules, no one could make it and I ended up going by myself. I could have waited, but this screening had a Q & A with the director afterwards, so how cool is that? The director, Patrick Takaya Soloman, was only there for two showings on Friday, so I decided that I could not wait.

First, though, I ate dinner at Chipotle's and then decided to check out the Occupy Portland camp, which I have been meaning to do for a couple weeks now. I will write more about this movement and my impressions in another post. It was great to see and my vibe was definitely in a near blissful stage. If I lived downtown still, I'd probably spend nearly every evening at the camp, hanging out with people and having meaningful conversations and perhaps even attend strategy sessions. Because I live so far out (a 45 minute bus ride one way), I have to be mindful of not missing the last bus if I were to hang out for hours. But that's another post for another day.

The showing I attended was practically sold out. I wasn't expecting much, as I've seen enough "documentaries" of a New Agey / New Though spiritual bent and they are pretty much all the same: take a spiritual topic, interview a bunch of well-known practitioners from a diverse field, have a minimal acting sequence, throw into blender and presto! Instant New Agey documentary! Just this year, I've seen I Am and Happy.

Finding Joe is about the ideas explored and developed by Joseph Campbell, a mythologist who was best known for coining the phrase "Follow your bliss." The film is less about him than it is about The Hero's Journey. The film even illustrates the Hero's Journey through a group of kids acting out some interesting stories from mythology (such as the Golden Buddha of Thailand, and others). While it was kind of charming, it was also "low frills" (and likely, very inexpensive) entertainment.

The use of children to act out the mythological tales and the principles of the Hero's Journey, I guessed that the director is aiming his documentary towards the younger generation, which truly needs to learn about this way of looking at their lives. I wish I knew about the Hero's Journey in elementary school. It might have helped me deal with some grief better (particularly bullying and racist xenophobia). But on the other hand, I experienced life and gained an understanding before I knew what I needed to look for. Once I discovered Joseph Campbell in the late 1990s, I could relate.

There's an actual circular chart that illustrates The Hero's Journey. I don't have it handy at the moment, but the main stages includes: The Call to Adventure, the facing of one's dragons, the belly of the whale, apotheosis, and the return. There are quite a few more stages in between those ones. What is important to understand is that our lives are a constant circle of experiences. Forget linear time and think circular. Each cycle we endure brings us a new understanding and contributes to our own evolutionary growth.

While I did find the film to be inspiring and I enjoyed hearing from Deepak Chopra, skateboarding legend Tony Hawks, surfing legend Laird Hamilton, and a few other people I've never heard of. Their comments are peppered throughout the documentary. There was so much good stuff, I wish I had taken notes on what they said so I can refer back to it later. Unfortunately, though, I thought the documentary stuck to the surface of things for the most part. It was not incredibly detailed or thought provoking enough. It was basically made for those who have not been exposed to Joseph Campbell and wanted to get the Cliff Notes version, which is pretty watered down.

During the Q & A, the director explained that he wanted to make a film where someone without a high school education could understand it and it is his hope that schools will play the film for children. He has been met with resistance in California, which is kind of surprising in one way and not in another way. The feel good, inspirational qualities might be an easy sell, if not for the fear of many school boards of pissing off the evangelical parent, who would likely consider this film to be "evil".

I think it would be a great idea for children to see this documentary and let it fire their imaginations. However, adults might find themselves wanting more depth. I certainly did. If this were a college course on Joseph Campbell, this documentary would be a basic primer, "The Hero's Journey 101." Hopefully the Movies and Meaning group will see this film. I'll skip it and attend the discussion group just to hear what the others have to say about it. I'm betting that they will likely find this film a little too much on the shallow end of spirituality. That's the trouble when you dumb down a movie so that people with low IQs will watch the film and possibly learn something new.

1 comment:

T said...

Another must see! The hero's journey is the foundation of great storytelling.