Title: People v. The State of Illusion

Director: Scott Cervine

The new film from the same creative team behind the New Age-y, $16 million-grossing 2004 box office surprise “What the Bleep Do We Know?”, documentary “People v. The State of Illusion” is a deadly dull treatise on stress and other modern psychological hindrances to health and happiness. Mildly and fitfully informative and stimulating, but also more than a little creepy, director Scott Cervine’s film — narrated in artificial tones by executive producer and motivational speaker Austin Vickers, to whom the phrase “uncanny valley” could be applied — comes across as a Scientology recruitment video awkwardly cross-pollinated with a late-night infomercial.

So what is “People v. The State of Illusion” selling? Well, the movie peddles the notion that stress is a consequence of perception, and that it’s physically impossible to have an objective view of reality; we fill in gaps with our memory, one interviewee explains, and “the only reality is what we’ve chosen to participate in.” Interview subjects include authors like Debbie Ford, Dr. Joe Pispenza, Dr. Robert Jahn, Dr. Candance Pert, Dr. Michael Vandermark, Peter Senge and Dr. Thomas Moore, who get meta on the aforementioned and related topics, while Vickers intermittently pops up to dole out complementary factoids like the detail that more people die from suicide each year than in all of the world’s armed conflicts combined.

Some bits here are quite interesting — the notion of high levels of CRF molecules, absorbed in utero, making us more biologically reactive to stress, say, or a study in which the randomized movements of a computer robot were supposedly impacted by the attentions of caged baby chicks who were trained to think it was their mother — but before the film can much dig into these in a substantive and connective way, the audience is whisked off to some other soothingly-voiced homily or, worse, one of a recurring string of narrative re-enactments in which a single father gets arrested and convicted for vehicular manslaughter, imprisoned, and then has his mind opened through conversations with a kindly janitor and an alcoholic prison guard who turns out to have gone to the same high school he did.

This stab at narrative/associative coupling is woefully misguided, and just puts the brakes on any philosophical insights or awakening the movie might be aiming to trigger, no matter otherwise how wonky that might be. Cervine and Vickers’ other ideas are just as hamfisted. They opt for easy metaphor, hammering home the notion of emotional programs being prison walls via visual overlays of jail cells and what not. The movie itself then just becomes lost in the weeds. When folks start talking about how emotions “literally guide our eyeballs where to look — our superior colliculus moves our eyes, and where our eyes gaze is subconsciously an indicator of the emotional state that we’re in,” well… what does it say about my emotional state that I found myself aggressively wanting to gaze away, and get instead just get lost in a daydream about Marisa Tomei or Diora Baird, or maybe Marisa Tomei and Diora Baird?

There’s an intriguing and potentially beneficial message here — about the idea of making life changes in states of joy rather than waiting until pain or loss — but “People v. The State of Illusion” is a yawning patchwork of brain science and psychology, and even more of a mess as a self-help film. For a more interesting exploration of the effect of stress and happiness on one’s emotional state, check out something like Tom Shadyac’s intensely personal and yet oddly universal nonfiction offering “I Am.”

For more information, visit www.TheStateofIllusion.com.

Technical: D

Story: C

Overall: D

Written by: Brent Simon

People v. The State of Illusion

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By Brent Simon

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, Newsweek Japan, Magill's Cinema Annual, and many other outlets. He cannot abide a world without U2 and tacos.

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