RAM DASS: FIERCE GRACE
(director: Mickey Lemle; cinematographer: Buddy Squires; editors: Aaron Vega/Mickey Lemle/Jacob Craycroft; music: Teese Gohl/with songs by Grace Slick and George Harrison; cast: Dr. Larry Brilliant, Wavy Gravy, William Alpert, Rosemary Woodruff Leary, Bhagavan Das, Mark Matousek, Abby Reyes; Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Mickey Lemle; Zeitgeist; 2001)
“Inspirational biopic on Ram Dass.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Mickey Lemle (“The Other Side of the Moon”/”Compassion in Exile: The Story of the 14th Dalai Lama”) earnestly directs in a straightforward fashion this inspirational biopic on Ram Dass, who left the respectable world of Harvard when fired from his psychology faculty post with colleague Timothy Leary for taking LSD in 1963 and traveled in 1967 to India to study meditation and thereby met his guru Maharaj Ji. His guru changed his name from Richard Alpert to Ram Dass (“Servant of God”), and in 1968 Ram Dass returned to the States as a full-fledged disciple. His Jewish father was a wealthy corporate lawyer and the head of the New Haven railroad, who offered his son unconditional love in his unusual life choice. The prominent family lived in Boston and had a 300-acre country home in New Hampshire. In 1971 Ram Dass authored the best-selling self-help book Be Here Now, that expressed his nondenominational Eastern philosophy and it became one of the most read spiritual books of the time. For the remainder of his life he settled into being a spiritual healer and guru to many seekers.
Lemle’s pic sympathetically follows Ram Dass some four years after his stroke in 1997 and how being “stroked” has the now partially paralyzed, speech impaired and wheelchair-bound spiritual teacher confronting problems of aging for the Baby Boomers and through this experience authoring his latest book in 2000 “Still Here.”
Through archival footage we see how Ram Dass looked in the 1960s and how he brought 400 hippies to his New Hampshire home and how they peacefully danced on the estate’s golf course.
The massive stroke made Ram Dass rethink things and the sensitive, contemplative and gentle healer has used his new learning experiences to benefit others who may have experienced traumatic events in their life. It ends on the insightful note that: “Healing is not about getting back to the way things were, but about learning to live with how they are.”
The film does not try to fully explore Ram Dass’s life or offer any critical comments or show any of his many detractors (which limits its effectiveness!), but instead serves as an unpretentious tribute to the stroke-impaired elder statesman (who was 69 at the time) for his willingness to receive sound advice as well as give it and his special ability to reach people in need with his sincere heartfelt message. Though parts of the film were plodding and not much light is shed on his New Age beliefs, yet the warmth of Ram Dass cannot be denied. It seems to be geared for the aging countercultural advocates and those seeking a spiritual way of life, but others with an open mind who stumble onto this film might be pleased by its good vibes.
REVIEWED ON 11/9/2009 GRADE: B+