Becoming Nobody, directed by Jamie Catto, is a new documentary exploring the philosophies of spiritual teacher Ram Dass. Although it is perhaps too preachy and specific to break out of niche audiences, there are still things to learn from Ram Dass even if you don’t entirely agree with some of his spiritual offerings.
The film has two main portions: one a historical exploration of Ram Dass’s rise, and the other a conversation between the filmmaker and Ram Dass about his teachings. Although his experiences of becoming a spiritual leader are quite interesting, the focus of the movie is not on his personal story, but instead, what he has to say and how his teachings have impacted others.
This is all well and good, but for those who are not interested in exploring the spiritual ideas Ram Dass holds, the film offers very little that will be of interest because of this one-sided approach. To hook those who do not believe in the teachings of a movie’s subject, the documentary needs to have a strong narrative, and that is what Becoming Nobody lacks.
Ultimately, the main thing which people can learn from Ram Dass is the idea of acceptance. Ram Dass’s teachings are a combination of Western and Eastern spiritual practices. By opening his eyes to other cultures, Ram Dass was able to come to his realizations. Although most audience members are unlikely to be open to his teachings, they can instead gain a sense of cultural awareness from the film.
However, this positive message is sadly overwhelmed by the movie’s didactic nature. Although the film is not trying to “convert” the audience (Ram Dass isn’t a cult leader or anything like that), the feeling that the movie is trying to teach. The issue with this is that Ram Dass’s ideas are far too complex to be explored in an hour and a half, and as such, the film feels shallow and insubstantial.
That said, the movie does a good job of legitimizing Ram Dass as a teacher. Because the historical portions of the film are mixed with the interviews with Ram Dass, audience members will be able to get a decent sense of his personality. His humor in particular shines through, making the movie much more palatable than it would otherwise be.
The film is also quite strong on a technical level. The editing is solid, particularly the use of the Ken Burns effect to make archive photos appear more aesthetically appealing. Additionally, the score, while simple, is effective at setting the mood of the movie. Thanks to these qualities, the film is made slightly more watchable.
Becoming Nobody, while not unwatchable, is a documentary that tries too hard to preach to the audience and ends up delivering little more than watered down philosophy. Although those who are already aware of Ram Dass may take interest in this movie, others are unlikely to find this worth their time.
Becoming Nobody hits theaters on September 6.