Despite the movie poster art which might remind you of parlor trick magicians and mystics like Uri Geller and the spoon-bending trick, the 2010 documentary, “American Mystic” is a respectful, thought-provoking film about three different members of spiritual beliefs that are outside the Judeo-Christian mainstream.
Director Alex Mar sets a respectful tone in his first documentary. This isn’t about old-time religions and old people, but three young people who embrace a different spirituality. “American Mystic” was released at the April 2010 Tribeca Film Festival and is part of June 2013 SundanceNow “Beyond Belief” Doc Club series.
The movie begins in a peaceful pastoral scene. We follow a truck with bales of hay and hear a single male voice. The voice belongs to Kublai in New York who works as a field hand and works with horses. He tells us “When you walk into the stables it feels like peace.” Kublai is learning to be a medium. He was raised in the Church of Spiritualism and Healing, what seems to be Christianity mixed with other older beliefs.
In a small South Dakota village of Red Shirt, another young man looks back at his past. Chuck had to leave the Pineridge Indian Reservation to learn about the traditional Lakota spirituality through sweat lodges and meetings with elders.
Mar looks at Morpheus in California who grew up off-the-grid in a one-room cabin with no electricity. She identifies herself as a witch and her spiritual awakening seems to stem from a traumatic event: a big earthquake.
The stories are intercut and we find commonalities–the search for self, the search for meaning, the search for understanding a world order and family. All three must confront the beliefs of the greater American culture. Chuck comments that while some might view children as born out of sin, for the Lakota, babies are sacred. Yet Chuck and his young family live on food stamps and other social welfare programs.
That doesn’t mean these three can totally ignore the mainstream world. Chuck’s brother is in prison. Kublai doesn’t complain but his work is hard and not especially secure. “In the end, I want to be a person who influences others,” Kublai comments.
Chuck talks about getting pierced and we very visibly see the scares he bears on his body along with this his tattoos that are less Native American and more modern day America.
Morpheus lives a sort of hippy existence. “I feel very strongly I’m not here on earth to be comfortable. You define you life by your willingness to take risks, she says.
Could any of these individuals exist without the support of the outside culture? Would our society be better if we all embraced their ways of life? “In many ways, we are only limited by our courage,” Morpheus states, but is living apart from the mainstream courageous or a weak response to modernization?
Still in “American Mystic,” Alex Mar serves up a slice of Americana that most of us never see and helps show just how different Americans are in their beliefs. If you believe in freedom of religion, “American Mystic” reminds us why that freedom is important. “American Mystic” can be viewed on SundanceNow.