Peaceful Warrior film does not stick the landing

By Preman Koshar || Arts & Entertainment Editor

I would be willing to bet $10 — and no more than that, as that’s about my cumulative net worth at the moment — that no one who reads this article has heard of the film Peaceful Warrior. It is not a new film; it came out a decade ago and wasn’t that big of a deal even then. It is largely composed of B-list stars and is directed by a director most well known for his crappy horror flicks and the fact that he is, well, a convicted child molester. So we’re not off to a great start there, especially considering this is supposed to be a romantic drama about personal growth and transformation.

Scott Mechlowicz stars as Dan Millman, the protagonist of the film, who I have trouble feeling sympathy for from Day 1. He attends UC Berkeley, is a star gymnast with the potential to go to the Olympics, an A student, and is attractive enough to — in his own words — “never spend the night alone if I don’t want to.” So, he’s doing pretty okay in my estimation. But Scott lacks a higher purpose. He doesn’t have any true meaning in his life and rushes through the world instead of taking the time to appreciate it and “meditate in everything he does.” These are valid points, important points, that are made by an old man who Scott meets by chance at a service station. Scott, after treating the old man like trash for a while, begins to accept his advice and starts, slowly, to grow as a human being. Now, dear reader, I’m going to spoil the film, as that’s the only way for you to appreciate just how disappointing this movie is. Stop now, if you plan on watching this film at a later date.

You’ve been warned.

From there, Scott promptly decides, for largely silly reasons, that the old man—who, by the way, Scott only ever mockingly refers to as “Socrates”—is full of it and goes back to his one night stands and crazy party-filled lifestyle. And Scott actually does seem to improve (at gymnastics, that is) for a while, though this may be because he is now getting a full night’s rest (most of the training sessions from Socrates are done in the middle of the night, for some unfathomable reason.).

But then, of course, Scott shatters his leg in a motorcycle accident and it looks like he’ll never compete in gymnastics ever again. We have to have true drama here, people — watch out. This is when most people would assume that the film would take a predictable, yet powerful, turn and that Scott would learn more about himself and the world and maybe live a life of service to others instead of pursuing his fun and glamorous, but rather self-centered, sport. Socrates seems to hint at this kind of powerful transformation, but instead, through a number of poorly done, dream-like sequences, it becomes clear that Scott is still going to pursue gymnastics at all costs. What’s stranger is that Socrates supports this effort. The film quickly changes from focusing on personal growth and development to, instead, perseverance in a sport that benefits nobody but Scott himself.

I did not watch this film to see yet another “inspirational” sport flick, and it was a little disgusting to see it get turned into one halfway through. Scott still learns to live in the moment and to be kind to others, so there is somewhat of a transformation. Nevertheless, he is still focusing his life on a sport that is largely about individualistic achievement. I don’t mean to attack gymnastics — I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with the sport — but I don’t buy that simply becoming really good at gymnastics is going to fulfill anyone’s life, or give them any true meaning.

I just don’t; it’s another one of those “American Dream” fallacies, where people believe that individual achievement and success and “being the best” will result in happiness. Sorry, everyone, that is a flat-out lie. There are numerous scientific studies supporting me on this, if you doubt it. Happiness largely comes from our relationships with others, our genetics, our general attitude toward life, and our habits.

Studies have clearly shown, over and over again, that the happiness derived from individual achievement is fleeting at best. And I think that Peaceful Warrior tries to acknowledge that, but it makes that point so weakly, and focuses on the gymnastics so much, that it just gets lost in the shuffle. And when a point like that—arguably the whole reason that the film was made (or, at least, the reason it should have been made)—gets lost in the shuffle, then the film becomes useless and pointless altogether. Then it just becomes another sports film with some quality quotes and platitudes about life. And that’s a tragedy.

Peaceful Warrior tries to make a powerful statement about personal growth and happiness, but it gets so mired in the achievements and the opinions of other people that its points on relationships and the journey of life don’t hold any real weight. In this way, the film, while noble in intent, completely fails in its purpose and instead feeds the unhappiness machine that is modern American ambition.

Sophomore Preman Koshar is the Arts & Entertainment Editor. His email is pkoshar@fandm.edu.

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