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Crazy Wisdom Movie Review


Crazy Wisdom Movie Review

Title: Crazy Wisdom

Director: Johanna Demetrakas

“Crazy Wisdom” focuses on a subject perhaps worthy of a documentary, but hopelessly obscured by fawning and myopia. Director Johanna Demetrakas sets her sights on Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a brilliant Tibetan monk who on foot escaped the 1959 Communist invasion of his homeland in quite unlikely fashion, studied and taught at Oxford University, and then shattered Westerner’s preconceptions of Buddhist enlightenment, renouncing his monastic vows, bedding students, drinking alcohol and eventually eloping with the 16-year-old daughter of an aristocrat.

Known in many circles as “the bad boy of Buddhism,” Trungpa was at the forefront of a movement that saw Eastern faith, religion, healing and consciousness all slip west, and commingle heartily with both American hippiedom and left-leaning academia. But was he corrupted by Western materialism, and living a massively hypocritical life? Or did his work to dismantle aggression and build an enlightened society based on compassion and respect trump the seeming contradictions of some of his methodology?

“Crazy Wisdom” is constructed in a languid fashion, with stories of remembrance from Trungpa’s wife and students, including poet Allen Ginsberg and author Pema Chodron, as well as colleagues and critics like American guru Ram Dass and scholar Robert Thurman. And there are a couple moments of piqued intrigue here — Ginsberg asking Trungpa about his opinions of jazz and rock ‘n’ roll — and certainly a sprinkling of naked provocation and fascinating contradictions as they relate to Trungpa’s personal life. Mostly, though, the film is a hermetically sealed document of boosterism.

Bluntly put, Demetrakas never manages to hoist the movie up out of its miasma of spiritual navel-gazing and self-congratulation, truly connecting Trungpa’s work to American counterculture’s emergence and life overall. The film accepts — and indeed, starts from — the premise that Trungpa was a wildly influential and trailblazing figure, and unassailably brilliant. And while it’s true that he played an integral role in Buddhism’s introduction to the West, even starting the first Buddhist university in the western hemisphere, there isn’t enough of a honest examination of Trungpa’s foibles to crack through its worshipful veneer. Trungpa have been a crazy and interesting figure, but “Crazy Wisdom” is mostly a snooze.

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Technical: C+

Story: C-

Overall: C-

Written by: Brent Simon

Crazy Wisdom

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A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Brent Simon is a three-term president of LAFCA, a contributor to Screen International and Magill's Cinema Annual, and film editor of H Magazine. He cannot abide a world without U2 and pizza.

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