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ALDOUS HUXLEY: THE GRAVITY OF LIGHT(director/writer: Oliver Hockenhull; cinematographer: John Houtman; music: Psyche Abandoned; cast: Dr. Jean Houston, David Odhiambo; Runtime: 70; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Oliver Hockenhull; Water Bearer Films; 1996-Canada)

“It’s iconoclastic, trippy and provocative.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Oliver Hockenhull’s stimulating documentary on Aldous Huxley offers a loving look at the controversial British writer who was born in 1894 into an intellectually elite family and emigrated to the United States in 1937 and became by the Sixties one of the icons for the psychedelic culture. Huxley was introduced to mescaline by the psychiatrist Humphry Osmond in 1953 and from thereon advocated its use to search for enlightenment. He died on November 22, 1963, the same day President Kennedy was assassinated, and as well-noted took 100 micrograms of LSD as his wife administered it to him as he lay dying. Irish author C. S. Lewis also died on the same day. The film makes good usage of rare archival footage, computer rendered 3D animation, dramatic reenactments, fictional conversations, and selections from his essays. Much of the film is comprised of the following: a 1957 Huxley interview televised by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, reflections on Huxley’s futuristic 1932 novel “Brave New World” and it also uses excerpts from an animated speech given by U.N. adviser Dr. Jean Houston at a symposium on the author she idolizes.

There are a few revealing quotes Huxley leaves us with 1) On psychological totalitarianism: “And it seems to me perfectly in the cards that there will be within the next generation or so a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude, and producing … a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them but will rather enjoy it, because they will be distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda, brainwashing, or brainwashing enhanced by pharmacological methods.” 2) On social organizations: “One of the many reasons for the bewildering and tragic character of human existence is the fact that social organization is at once necessary and fatal. Men are forever creating such organizations for their own convenience and forever finding themselves the victims of their home-made monsters.” 3) On experience: “Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him.”

For Huxley, intelligence and virtue are the ends of life. The world is potentiality, a place where one can achieve enlightenment in this lifetime. This contemporary reading of Huxley’s work plays like a playful essay on his social prophecies, rich mind-altering drug experience and search for knowledge by looking within that became part of the counter-culture’s mantra. It’s iconoclastic, trippy and provocative, and should be of interest to the open-minded, those already converted to seeking transcendence in an inner realm and those youngsters who would have been hippies if they lived in the Sixties. Huxley warns us that “Man is a victim of his own technology.” This film warns us not to laugh off things we haven’t experienced because it might sound illogical to our current experiences. Amazingly, the film avoids the tie-dye clichés that usually go with anyone who advocates psychedelic drugs (which might be a good recommendation in itself!).


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”