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Dying to Know: Ram Dass & Timothy Leary (2014)

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Dying to Know is an intimate portrait celebrating two very complex controversial characters in an epic friendship that shaped a generation. In the early 1960s Harvard psychology professors ... See full summary »


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David Leach



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Credited cast:
John Perry Barlow ... Himself
Dean Chamberlain Dean Chamberlain ... Himself
Ram Dass ... Himself
Peggy Mellon Hitchcock Peggy Mellon Hitchcock ... Herself
Timothy Leary ... Himself (archive footage)
Zach Leary Zach Leary ... Himself
Ralph Metzner Ralph Metzner ... Himself
Chhultim Sherpa Chhultim Sherpa ... Herself (as Lama Tsultrim Allione)
Huston Smith Huston Smith ... Himself
Andrew Weil ... Himself


Dying to Know is an intimate portrait celebrating two very complex controversial characters in an epic friendship that shaped a generation. In the early 1960s Harvard psychology professors Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert began probing the edges of consciousness through their experiments with psychedelics. Leary became the LSD guru, asking us to think for ourselves, igniting a global counter-cultural movement and landing in prison after Nixon called him 'the most dangerous man in America'. Alpert journeyed to the East becoming Ram Dass, a spiritual teacher for an entire generation who continues in his 80s teaching service through compassion. With interviews spanning 50 years the film invites us into the future encouraging us to ponder questions about life, drugs & the biggest mystery of all: death. Written by Anonymous

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26 August 2016 (USA) See more »

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CNS Communications See more »
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16:9 HD
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User Reviews

A Complex and Entertaining Reassesment of 1960's Icon REichard Alpert (Ram Dass) and Timothy Leary
1 June 2015 | by gaydSee all my reviews

Dying to Know is a complex film that explores a constellation of the issues centering on consciousness, life and death. At first, since the film falls into the classification of documentary, I assumed that it would chronicle the lives of these two seminal leaders of alternative, exploratory culture.

Because of the subjects, their particular voices and consistency in their individual philosophy and approach to life and to death, the film mirrors the overt intellectual ideas they each embody while seducing the viewer to feel and intuit the substance of each man and the freedom and openness in their capacity to embrace life and death simultaneously. The thread running through the film is truly about having an open-hearted love for each other and for life. It is a film that does a balancing act of simultaneous objectivity or theoretical exploration while concurrently conveying and honoring the intuitive. So one moment the viewer is asked to contemplate existence through a particular theoretical lens while sensing the profundity of being. The "Be Here Now" mantra we associate with Ram Dass dances with the mind's desire to know and make sense of the world.

There are myths surrounding both of these men and those myths function to hold their personalities in check in a particular moment in history. The sixties have been appropriated to serve fashion, art, popular culture in all forms and so to be able to create a film with such substance serves to undermine these myths and show the progression and transformation that each experienced over time. We tend to hold our perceptions and constructions of icons like these two in a static place. This film makes them the flawed, remarkable, transformative individuals that they are together and explores that over time.

The aesthetics of Dying to Know initially prompt one to think, oh no, I am going to be asked to go on a pretend acid trip. Then, paying attention to the vocabulary that is used to express complicated psychological states of mind or representations of drug induced consciousness and dreams, one finds the range from hand drawn images to highly sophisticated animation serves to make the journey delightfully varied and unexpected. And, when you think about the complexity of the subject, the varied approaches to expressing these states of mind using differing visual strategies lends a supporting framework to the overall conceptual complexity of the film's questions and ideas. It is a collage of ideas and a collage of images and so whatever assumption one might bring to what they will see evaporates into a joy ride. The historic footage is interspersed with colorful images, balancing black and while, old grainy surfaces and high def detail all serving the collage. It is wild and serves the joyous sense of freedom of the period.

I laughed in places where few others in the audience did and I heard others laugh in places that I did not. On occasion humor reaches everyone. I also cried and I think that emotional response was to the genuine way in which the film re-stimulates each of us to think about our own losses and our own mortality. Death is embraced with the embrace and curiosity that life has been and with humor and grace. In that regard, the film offers a gift to others that might be suffering from terminal illness as it opens the journey with openhearted inquiry and curiosity rather than reinforcing our culture's notion of "the End".

In this way, the film covers a lot of ground. The gradual debunking of stereotype, the truth of human change through aging and transformation that comes from being at peace and disciplined in thought on the matter of dying. The seriousness taken with the subject and activity of drugs for the purpose of exploration, in contrast to the purpose of getting wasted is one of the crucial myth busters. That dichotomy has been in place for a very long time and this film honors the depth of seriousness that at least part of the sixties culture understood and were inspired by. Once out in the world on college campuses, there were those who wanted to explore drugs for experimental, mind and reality exploring purposes but popular culture has long re-framed that time as one of debauchery for the sake of debauchery. The film places the subject rightfully on the platform it belongs on and does so respectfully.

Jan Brooks

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