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Ram Dass has been an important spiritual teacher for almost 40 years,
bringing Eastern wisdom to the West, most significantly with his seminal
book BE HERE NOW. In 2000 (or maybe 1999?) he had a stroke, and this
documentary focuses on his recovery from the stroke and his dealing with
consequences of that, and how he has incorporated that into his
As a documentary, Fierce Grace is poorly constructed. It leaves huge gaps. We learn how Richard Alpert, Harvard professor, meets Timothy Leary (who had the Harvard office next door) and becomes part of the mind experiments of the 60s, and how that led him to India and the Maharaji. When Ram Dass returns to the States, we see a brief flash of a poster of "Baba Ram Dass" and then interviews with his family talking about the hundreds of people who came to see him and learn from him. There is a fairly large and jarring gap here, as we have no idea how these people knew about him; the movie doesn't describe his teaching, his publishing, his recording, or give any hint except that suddenly he was somehow famous. It assumes viewers know, I guess, except that doesn't make for good storytelling.
This is one example of numerous odd gaps in the narrative. Nothing of Ram Dass's personal life post-India is told until his stroke 40 years later. It's as if he lived in a bubble. There are good ways of skipping a bunch of decades and details but I don't think the filmmaker found them.
I am also bothered by the way that the movie spent more time telling us that Ram Dass had wisdom and teachings than actually showing us. The two best scenes are when we hear his actual teaching. In the movie's best moment (which is TOTALLY worth the price of admission), a couple who have survived a terrible tragedy read the letter that Ram Dass wrote them. In that letter was more wisdom and profundity than many people will hear in a lifetime. Towards the end of the film, we see Ram Dass personally counseling someone who has endured a great tragedy, and again, we are profoundly moved. But in between, there is little of Ram Dass's wisdom. Over and over he says he has learned a great teaching from his stroke, but just as he opens his mouth to describe it, the camera cuts away. If I hadn't seen Ram Dass personally, twice, I would not know that he was a great teacher. The movie describes the intense loss Ram Dass went through, going from a witty, clever, verbally deft teacher to a verbally faltering person struggling with neurological limitations, but there isn't a single clip showing his verbal deftness, and I'm sure such clips must be available. I found it very frustrating to be in the presence of this great man and have his greatness kept off-camera about 80 percent of the time.
Again, the remaining 20 percent makes the film totally worth watching, and it's not like I can direct you to some other documentary about him instead. 7/10
One of the most profoundly moving and inspiring documentary films I
have ever seen. Ram Dass talks openly about his experiences with his
ageing process and willingly shows his vulnerability to his situation.
His ability to put this into words is inspiring and left me feeling
more resourced about any suffering in my own life.
The documentary is informative, funny and poignant and should appeal to any with yearning for honesty and understanding of life's dilemmas. The style of the movie doesn't try to be slick or clever or preachy. Ram Dass's spirituality is portrayed through his twinkling eyes as much as through his words.
Gives an interesting short historical leap into the late sixties / early seventies with footage of Timothy Leary and acid culture. The scenes of 400 hippies dancing on the lawns of Ram Dass's father's house is great. Would your father be OK with that?
Do not pass this film by.
Mickey Lemle's documentary Ram Dass, Fierce Grace is a portrait of Ram Dass
(Richard Alpert), author, 60s guru, spiritual teacher, cohort of Timothy
Leary, and author of Be Here Now, one of the most influential books of the
1970s. The film begins in the present, as Ram Dass deals with the effects of
a massive stroke he suffered in February 1997 that left him physically
incapacitated, and with impaired memory and speech. Interweaving current
conversations, interviews with people in his life, and archival footage,
Lemle then looks back at his childhood, the controversy surrounding his
research with Timothy Leary in psychedelics at Harvard, his studies in India
with Neem Karoli Baba, who renamed him Baba Ram Dass (Servant of God), his
work with the Seva Foundation in social action projects dedicated to
relieving suffering in the world, and his impact as an author and guru to
millions of followers.
Several examples are shown of his compassion and his ability to feel the pain of others. In an early sequence, his beautiful "Rachel's Letter"* comforts a family after their daughter was murdered. In the final sequence, Ram Dass listens to a young woman struggling to overcome her grief at her boyfriend's violent death. She brings him to tears when she tells him about a dream she had in which her boyfriend speaks to her from beyond with a reassuring message.
When Ram Dass received the "fierce grace" of being "stroked," he admits he did not have any unusual spiritual epiphany. He recalls, "Here I am, Mr. Spiritual, and in my own head I didn't orient toward the spirit. It showed me I have some work to do." He has written about the stroke in his latest book, Still Here in which he talks about slowing down, and finding out about the "everything" that is out there. For Ram Dass, aging has become a gift. "I was galumphing through life before the stroke," he says. "I'm at peace now more than I've ever been. The peace comes from settling in to the moment."
Enhanced by the music of Krishna Das, the documentary is more than just a bio-pic or a meditation on the process of aging, it is an inspiring portrait of a man whose life can be summed up in one word -- service. Ram Dass has said, "What one person has to offer to another is their own being, nothing more, nothing less." In Ram Dass, Fierce Grace, Lemle has given us Ram Dass's being, nothing more, nothing less. That is a gift of love.
As I watched it, I realized that it continued to get better and better
as the runtime went on. Whereas most docs tend to wear down over time,
this one did the exact opposite, and it ultimately has become one of
the best documentary I've seen lately.
It doesn't have an agenda or message, and it doesn't rely on any manipulative music or narration to get a point across. It's just there for what it is, and it is amazing.
Ram Dass was and is still such an inspiring figure. The theme of death and seeing him so feeble makes me feel for the world when he finally passes on. If you have any interest in him, you should without a doubt watch this film. Even if you don't have any interest, you should give it a go. You might find him to be one of your new favorite philosophers and teachers!
I've read Ram Dass's "Be Here Now" and "Journey of Awakening". I've
seen his other books on the shelf like "How Can I Help" and "Grist for
the Mill" and though it's been a while, I recall his account of meeting
his guru for the first time from "Be Here Now" which is retold in this
doc. Being familiar with him, Fierce Grace felt very natural to me like
a visit from an old, trusted friend. I soaked in the Kirtan chanting of
Krishna Das as well. Beautiful. The footage of the gatherings of like
minded youth at his family's estate and the story of his psychedelic
experimenting which eventually led to his spiritual journey were
Let me say this is some Real Stuff from life. We all have our struggles in life and this film shows others struggling through things like the death of loved ones and having to deal with the aftermath of a stroke. It gave me strength to deal with my own issues and to remember the process of life from the more eternal perspective. Thanks Ram Dass!
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