Enlighten Up! Movie Review

Enlighten Up! Movie
Courtesy of Amazon

Enlighten Up! is a yoga documentary with a twist. Filmmaker and yoga practitioner Kate Churchill set out to make a film about modern yoga and what it means to look for enlightenment, but instead of taking a detached, third-person approach or examining her own yoga journey, she recruits a guinea pig, self-described skeptic Nick Rosen, and casts him as an archetypical seeker. Nick travels to India and around the United States talking to some of yoga's leading teachers. The trouble is, Nick isn't really looking for what Kate wants him to find.

All Who Wander Are Not Lost

Kate states her position up front, saying at the start of the film that she already believes there is "a true yoga: a life changing practice that can lead a person to happiness. Maybe even enlightenment." She wants to prove that yoga can be transformative. While Nick may be unhappy and unsure about what to do with his life, he is not really looking to be transformed. As the old joke goes, the lightbulb has to want to change. It seems obvious from the start that Kate's approach is misguided, and in doggedly sticking to her premise, she may have missed out on the opportunity to make a really interesting film about yoga.

Yoga's Best and Brightest

The highlight of this film is the interviews with some of yoga's best known and most intriguing teachers. The opening sequence features quick snippets of Rodney Yee, Beryl Bender Birch, Cyndi Lee, Baron Baptiste, and Gurmukh. Though the DVD's packaging is eager to cite these cameos, they are gone before you know it. And wait, was that David Swenson? Ana Forrest? Seen so quickly they are not even credited, the chance to interview these yoga stars seems to have been squandered. On the positive side, in the course of his travels, Nick talks at greater length with Jivamukti founders David Life and Sharon Gannon, Dharma Mittra, Norman Allen, Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar. These captivating exchanges reveal a great deal about contemporary yoga's origins. Nick's time in India and the revelations about how differently yoga is viewed in its native country are worth the price of admission alone.

A Problem of Premise

The premise that yoga has a goal and that goal is enlightenment weighs this film down. Nick doesn't want to be transformed; that's Kate's trip. Unfortunately, the fascinating interviews are bogged down by the subplot of Kate and Nick's deteriorating relationship. While on paper, the idea of a novice yogi seeking wisdom at the feet of the masters would seem to make the film more accessible to a non-yogi audience, no such shenanigans would be necessary were a subject this rich to be explored with a lighter touch. Ultimately, it's disappointing that a better film didn't arise from the amazing access the filmmakers had to some of contemporary yoga's most interesting minds.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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