Sunday, November 25, 2012

Jay's Movie of the Week #47: The Highest Pass

The more I thought about this one, the hokier it got - what's your take? (Originally reviewed for DVDsnapshot)

Our Take:

Adam is an amateur motorcyclist with less than a month's experience under his belt. Therefore, it makes perfect sense he should tackle an over 1200 mile trip through the Himalayas on a single-cylinder, 350cc street bike. There are accidents and altitude sickness to contend with. Will the guardian angels of the ignorant idiot protect him? What could possibly possess someone to think that's a good idea?

Murky motivations aside, The Highest Pass is presented as the story of a group seeking enlightenment by taking an incredibly dangerous, self-indulgent motorcycle trek on the world's highest and most dangerous roads; all under the guise of a “spiritual journey.” Considering there's a film crew and hired snowplow, they sure come off like “entitled yahoos with money getting irresponsibly out of their element.”

It's hard to be open to someone's story when (from, yes, perhaps a place of Western cynicism) you start by questioning why they so badly need an external validation of their spirituality from someone with the “other culture” seal of approval, in this case Eastern. The wisdom everyone attributes to poor Guru Anand, supposedly cursed with a prophesy of an early death, looks like nothing so much as bad judgment to the viewer. Yet once you invest in the idea that you're going to attain enlightenment, everything must be channeled through that lens. The riders almost fetishize this guru, who boasts a vanity practice named Sattva Yoga and YouTube videos (that underline how much the impression a documentary subject makes is through good editing), along with every elderly non-English-speaker they encounter.
Is this a documentary or subtle infomercial for the spiritually-enlightened adventure traveler? Perhaps this one of his Sattva “Warrior Immersion” courses? To saddle someone at birth with a “chart” predicting they'll die young seems like the worst, most offensive, kind of child abuse. It's only “prophecy” if it comes true. Otherwise, it's just living with something said by a jerk by trying to scare your parents. (Though, I suppose it does take the pressure of “options” and creating your own path off the table.)

The great defense of all religious and spiritual practice is that it reinforces itself. Those who don't get it, or scoff, are simply “unenlightened.” Maybe I am, but I do appreciate the call for greater awareness and “presence” in one's life, and the virtues of challenging yourself. Watch and decide for yourself what lessons and sense of authenticity you take away from this. (Then watch Anand's YouTube videos and giggle at the hamminess.)

Official Synopsis:
Adam Schomer meets a modern guru, Anand Mehrotra, and they plan a motorcycle expedition on some of the most dangerous roads in the world – to the highest pass of the Himalayas in Northern India. They convince a team of seven intrepid souls to join them and share in what will surely become the journey of a lifetime. These riders are guided by the inspired teachings of Anand, who himself bears the burden of a Vedic prophecy that predicts he will die in his late twenties in an accident. He is that age when he leads the group with fearlessness and wisdom reminding them that, “Only the one who dies, truly lives.” Over 21 days and up to an elevation of 18,000 feet along a winding road, they never let altitude sickness, snow-covered roads, icy edges, or “road killer” trucks dampen their spirits or, ultimately, their deeper selves.
Special Features:
  • A deleted scene, an outtake, and a behind-the-scenes segment (about six minutes total)
  • “Signs of India” slide show
  • Trailers

Conclusion:

This documentary of a well-intentioned spiritual journey unfortunately comes off as a pretentious and self-indulgently dangerous thrill-vacation... more insulting than romantic.

Overall Picture:
Movie: D (though it sure looks like an A vacation)
Extras: C-

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