'Shadows of Paradise'
Cult filmmaker David Lynch has long fascinated film fans with his bizarre contradictions. The man behind some of the most nightmarish movies around also sounds and speaks like an ‘Archie’ comic come to life. He’s an enigma and seems to go out of his way to ensure that mystery continues. One of the strangest developments in the recent years of Lynch’s life (aside from the sudden return of ‘Twin Peaks’) is his unexpected emergence as one of the figureheads of Transcendental Meditation.
Lynch had long practiced TM, but kept that part of his life private (as is his way). However, following the death of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, he unexpectedly emerged as the public face of the organization. That’s something not even Lynch could have seen coming. Even weirder, a documentary was made about the filmmaker’s involvement in the world of TM. Now it’s here and qualifies as the first David Lynch movie in far, far too long.
Technically, ‘Shadows of Paradise’ is the second documentary about Lynch’s relationship with TM, if you include ‘Meditation, Creativity, Peace’ – a doc the filmmaker edited himself from footage that film students shot of his TM speaking tour from 2007-2009 (and released by the man himself on YouTube). That’s more of a strange concert film, though. ‘Shadows of Paradise’ comes from a more objective viewpoint. Director Sebastian Lange opens the movie at the Maharishi’s funeral. It’s there that Lange meets the twin focuses of his film. One is Lynch, the other is Bobby Roth. The two would essentially take over the movement following the Maharishi’s funeral, and Lange followed them with cameras over that transitional period.
For Roth, TM is a cause he’s passionate about moving forward, whether that be setting up a charity concert led by Paul McCartney or advancing Lynch’s place in the organization. Roth is passionate and driven about the vision of TM, yet is careful to ensure that the movement never comes across as a religion. It’s a delicate balancing act that he executes with a calm enthusiasm that only makes sense for a figurehead of TM. As for Lynch, the period of filming feels like an awakening. He grows increasingly passionate about furthering TM and committing fully to the documentary (as well as an unfinished film about the Maharishi) as both a personal pilgrimage and dedicated quest to better humanity. Of course, Lynch being Lynch, he presents it with a mixture of playful humor, detached observations, strange anecdotes, and some almost impenetrable theories about the movement.
Beyond that, the film is gradually revealed to be a spiritual journey for director Sebastian Lange. He was raised in TM, but gradually lost his way. By following Lynch and Roth all over the world, Lange slowly comes to terms with his complicated relationship with the movement. He’s critical of the TM world that he grew up in, but remains enamored with the teachings, meditation, and his subjects’ passion for the material. The filmmaker finds a nice balance in his presentation of TM while also consistently finding just the right spot to place his ever-roaming camera.
‘Shadows of Paradise’ works as both a history lesson for Transcendental Meditation as well as a more personal reflection on the impact the meditation has on its followers. The result is neither propaganda nor a freak show. It offers a nice balance of reverence and hard questioning that would likely please those involved with TM more than an obviously glowing approach would.
Granted, the documentary likely won’t appeal to viewers (even David Lynch fans) who don’t already have at least a passing interest in and respect for TM. The focus is narrow and the approach is spiritual without preaching. It’s not made for those with critical feelings about TM, but only those already interested or involved. That’s not a particularly wide audience, but those who fall into that specific VENN diagram will undoubtedly get exactly what they need from it.