Yet how far is the inevitably distant camera lens able to penetrate and portray such a personal and inner journey to enlightenment?
One of the film’s greatest strengths lies in its honest depiction of enlightened life and, simultaneously, the difficulty of achieving it. Shots of individuals sobbing from the overwhelming spirituality that we assume has moved them interlace with images of pain and unrest: in one shot, the camera remains fixed on blood trickling down a young monk’s newly-shaved head; in another, it captures a monk yawning and itching his scalp behind his perfectly still teacher.
As the film develops, we see how attaining an ideal state of inner peace requires constant maintenance, which is echoed in the repeated rituals, stillness and silence that shape the documentary. Aside from recurrent motifs - frequent bell chimes that break the scenes’ natural sounds or shots of closed eyes - the film follows no preconceived ‘journey’ from A to B.
Walk With Me is difficult to follow (and, at times, for the viewer to stay awake). It challenges the viewer to experience a 94-minute chain of present moments, reminiscent of the Buddhist goal to permanently inhabit the here and now. The film makes us aware of how much we seek understanding in our own lives by either casting back to the past, or by lunging for the future, at the cost of living mindfully in the present. Practicing such mindfulness may well be a valuable experience, but it can get a bit dull to watch.
There are other pitfalls. Interspersed throughout the film are selected fragments of early observations by the community’s globally-recognised teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh. His profound ideas offer further insight into the heart and mind of a truly enlightened soul. However, they are rather unfortunately narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch in his all-too-familiar drawl. The words themselves are inspiring, if a tad clichéd. But Cumberbatch’s voice grates, and lacks the subtlety and impersonality that these teachings call for.
Despite this, the supposedly impenetrable ideal of Zen enlightenment is brought down to earth by subtly comic moments that remind the viewer of their own humanity. As Thich Nhat Hanh takes a group on a sleepy walk through the woods, one visitor to the monastery sports the ironic slogan ‘wake me up’ across his chest, and later we see the leader himself bemused by a toy cat that rolls around cackling at his feet in a duty-free store at the airport.
Such instances of humour break through Walk With Me’s presiding sense of calm and help to release tension. In spite of the film’s best efforts, we are reminded that the subjective practice of mindfulness is difficult enough to picture, let alone to sustain.
|What||Walk With Me review|
05 Jan 18 – 28 Feb 18, Times Vary
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