Peaceful Warrior (2006)

Rated: PG-13 Grade: BCB+B+=B+

Starring: Scott Mechlowicz, Nick Nolte, Amy Smart, Tim DeKay, Ashton Holmes, and Paul Wesley

Directed by: Victor Salva, who previously made Powder and Jeepers Creepers.

Summary: This is based on the real life story of Dan Millman, an Olympic-caliber gymnast career-ending injury and must struggle to find meaning in a life whose only previous source was competition. He works his way back to competition with the help of a neo-Buddhist mentor who tries to get him to recalibrate his empty life.

Entertainment Value: B Two things kept this movie from being an A. One is the feeling that I had seen all this before in various preincarnations such as Karate Kid, Powder, and the Legend of Bagger Vance. The other is that I never managed to much care about the main character because he was a punk, and not the endearing outcast in love with the hot-chick Daniel Caruso punk. But a popular over-confident punk. Otherwise, however, the movie is quite good.

Superficial Content: C Drugs/Alcohol C, Sexuality C, Violence B, Language C, Illegality A. PG-13 is a consistent rating here. There’s plenty of mild profanity, sexual scenes, references to sex, and consumption of alcohol. There is a serious car crash and one scene showing a dream where a gymnast’s leg disintegrates. The one note about all of this is that the bad behaviors are generally shown as negative.

Significant Content: B+ I can’t give it an A, and the reason is simple. This is largely a movie promoting New Age Self-Help Buddhism rather than Christianity. Nonetheless, it’s about as good as such a thing can be. I was always a fan of Powder and Phenomenon (not the same director), and this movie falls right within that tradition. The premise is that a wise mentor who has learned to overcome attachment to this world will teach you how to do the same and thereby achieve happiness and meaning. Give more than you take. Don’t worry about the future. Results are beyond our control, so do not define your happiness by them. Enjoy the journey, not the arrival. Life is suffering, happiness is learning to care without caring by realizing that there are no ordinary moments. And if you learn to focus on “the now,” you can do anything, even jump to the top of buildings.

Artistic/Thought Value: B+ Not for art value, but for thought value. This movie can and should generate plenty of meaty discussion. The danger of it is that people might swallow it in its entirety without discerning the good from the bad. But that’s the danger with any self-help offering, whether it’s a movie or book or a guru. The main problem with it from an art perspective is that the movie preaches detachment from results, but it rewards the viewer with a victorious comeback based on a real life story that surely wouldn’t have gotten made into a movie if Millman hadn’t.

Discussion Questions:
  • Are answers to be found within us our from outside? What is the Biblical perspective? Does your answer depend on whether the person is a Christian or not?
  • Is emptying your mind of all concerns Biblical?
  • This movie says that people are not their thoughts. The Bible says that a man is how he thinks in his heart. Are these compatible?
  • Do you think Nick Nolte’s character was real or a creation of Dan’s imagination?
  • What do you make of the supernatural feats done in this movie by Nolte?
  • Can focused perception lead to understanding people almost as well as real telepathy would?
  • Should we ignore the future? Is that healthy?
  • The three lessons listed during the climb up the mountain are that life is a paradox, we should have a sense of humor, and that change is constant. What do you think of these as basic life principles?
  • Herodotus said, “No man steps into the same river twice.” What does this mean, and how does it relate to this movie?
  • “The journey is all that matters, not the destination.” Do you agree?
  • Are things like smoking and drinking only bad when they are in control of us? Which is worse, addiction or total abstinence out of fear of addiction?
  • Does Nick Nolte’s character seem happy? Would you want to be him?
  • “Death is not sad, the sad thing is most people don’t live at all.” What would Jesus say?
  • Does competition pervert love of an activity or enhance it by pushing people? Can you enjoy competition without also succumbing to wanting to see others lose?
  • “It’s how you play the game that matters, not whether you win or lose.” How does this idea fit or not with this movie? Do you agree with it?
  • The core message of the movie seems to be that the results are not important, yet taking that seriously often produces great results. How can this tension be resolved? How does it relate to the idea of doing what God says in order to get the rewards and blessings which God promises to the obedient?
  • The movie ends with Dan succeeding. What do you think of a movie that preaches indifference to outcomes but ends on such an emotionally rewarding victory? Would anyone care about this story if Millman had not actually come back from his injury? Is that in conflict with the message?

Overall Grade: B+ Some Christians will dislike it for good reasons, and some others will really love it for good reasons. They’re both right.

No comments: