Peaceful Warrior is yet another of those “inspired by a true story’ films, though by the end, one starts to wonder exactly how much, if any, of this story’s events actually took place in reality. One expects a true story to be subject to a respectable amount of creative liberties, but at the same time, one would imagine that at least part of this story would be believable. That’s not so much the case with Peaceful Warrior, based on the memoir of the same name written by Dan Millman, whose account of spiritual enlightenment offered him pseudo-respectability as a self-help guru in the same way, for instance, that Dr. Ruth is a respectable authority on sex advice.
The movie revolves around the Dan Millman (Scott Mechlowicz), one of UC Berkley’s more promising gymnasts. Dan is one of those guys that most people don’t enjoy being around because he seems to have everything — good grades, athletic prowess, and an endless stream of hot sorority babes in his bed - all a result of very little effort. Oh, and he’s also a total prick.
But he also has a powerful case of insomnia, exacerbated by visually stunning, though often disturbing nightmares. Late one night, Dan is out driving to nowhere in particular and stops at a filling station. He encounters a white-haired mechanic (Nick Nolte), who speaks in well-worn Zen Buddhist clichés before making a leap to the top of the filling-station roof. This magic trick is enough to reel in the athlete’s curiosity, and thereafter, Dan makes a habit of visiting the gruff fella, who he nicknames “Socrates,” because apparently that’s as far as philosophy 101 takes the college kids these days.
At first, Dan doesn’t buy into Socrates “wisdom,” and it’s not entirely clear why Dan finds this guy even remotely interesting when he could be back in his bedroom banging one of his disposable women. But, for unexplained reasons, Dan — who seems to loathe all humans — genuinely likes Socrates, even though he rejects his lectures as total crap. As such, he keeps returning for more doses of Socrates’ verbal diarrhea.
Like any other spiritual journey, something catastrophic occurs to kick things into gear; Dan suffers a motorcycle accident and sustains injuries almost identical to those that occurred within one of his nightmares. When doctors discover that the athlete’s femur is broken in 17 places, they tell him to kiss his gymnastics career goodbye. Dan briefly considers jumping off a clock tower to end all the painful misery, but sadly for the audience, he decides to visit his old buddy Socrates instead.
In his humbled state, Dan decides to embrace Socrates’ wisdom, and in doing so, he reevaluates his life and its consequences. Socrates is convinced that a return to competitive gymnastics can be found through enlightenment, so he decides to educate Dan on the art of the peaceful warrior, which basically means letting go of ambition, developing an appreciation for the mundane, and living in the moment, i.e., Chicken Soup for the Dipshit. Indeed, Socrates’ method of training is that of unconventional conventionalism, and one can observe shades of wax on/wax off in his techniques, though Mr. Miyagi, at least, managed to teach Danielson karate, while Socrates only teaches Dan how to scrub a fucking toilet and repair a few engines, lessons he could’ve picked up just as well at the Adult Center for Minimum Wage Employment.
Moreover, Socrates’ teachings are excruciatingly commonsensical; in fact, most college kids would kick Nick Nolte’s ass if he were point to his head and state, “The trash is up here. Take out the trash.” The dialogue reads like a gas-station bathroom copy of Zen and The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance, and Nick Nolte delivers these generalities without an iota of irony: “There are no ordinary moments,” “Let go of attachments,” and “You practice gymnastics; I practice everything.” The journey that evokes ecstasy is also conveniently packaged in the form of free labor, so we get to watch Dan clean the garage. A lot.
The movie does offer a bit of cheesecake with its fortune cookies in the form of a really hot Joy (Amy Smart), who shows up at regular intervals to deliver meals to Socrates. Joy’s sole purpose in the movie is to diffuse the homoerotic vibe between Socrates and Dan, because, you know, a mentor has to spend a lot of time with his hands on his strapping young lad’s shoulders. The realm of creepiness persists when Socrates suddenly shows up on a balance beam in the gymnasium, and later, in Dan’s bedroom while he’s getting laid, which seems a perfect opportunity for some wax on/wax off instruction.
And, since this is a gymnastics movie, the director treats his audience to plenty of eye candy with slo-mo coverage of gym routines that linger over the sinewy triceps, biceps, and deltoids of well-toned young colts wearing either tight T-shirts or sporting bare chests. Such a distraction is generally welcomed during overly long, slow-moving, and highly pretentious films. But considering that director Victor Salva is a convicted sex offender who did time for fellating an underage boy, it feels kind of skeevy here — when a director does prison time for child molestation, any license to include gratuitous shower scenes ought to be permanently revoked.
Scott Mechlowicz does as well in the role of Dan as the script allows, and with his strong features and intense gaze, Hollywood should provide him with a respectable future. It’s hard to understand, however, why Nick Nolte was cast as Socrates, especially since the public’s perception of Nolte isn’t exactly one of spiritual enlightenment. Nolte as a mentor is a pretty hard sell, unless one considers a background of hard drinking and action movies as a credible prerequisite to teaching spiritual nirvana — his turn as a Zen teacher is about as believable as Mickey Rourke marching for women’s rights.
But the real irony here is that Peaceful Warrior is the rare film about spiritual enlightenment that actually offers enough New Age bullshit and ponderously self-important platitudes to inspire actual self-immolation. As Socrates remarks, “The journey is what brings us happiness, not the destination,” though I’d beg to differ if the destination was as far away from Peaceful Warrior as possible.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma and tries to avoid reality at all costs. She also insults pop culture daily at agentbedhead.com.
Peaceful Warrior / Agent Bedhead
Film | April 2, 2007 | Comments ()