Film review: Peaceful Warrior, starring Nick Nolte, Scott Mechlowicz and Amy Smart,directed by Victor Salva, 2 hours, 1 minute, Rated PG-13 for sensuality, sex referencesand accident scenes
Perhaps you are frustrated in your life. Perhaps you’re under great stress and don’t know what to do about it. And perhaps you feel all of this discomfort but don’t wantto talk about it, or receive any advice. Too bad. Peaceful Warrior, the newfilm adapted from Dan Millman’s classic Way of the Peaceful Warrior moveswith Zen sensibilities and speaks volumes about finding peace in the midst of chaos- and it will share with you much food for thought.
The story, inspired by true events in Millman’s life, follows an accomplished Universityof California-Berkeley gymnast through a profound transformation of body, mind andsoul. Dan (Scott Mecholowicz) is all testosterone and ego. He competes hard, playshard and doesn’t look back. His recklessness, in the gym and on his motorcycle, isdramatically represented in the film’s opening sequence. Dan is awakened at 3 a.m.by a nightmare. Unable to sleep, he wanders for a late-night snack to a nearby Texacoservice station and meets the gravelly voiced attendant (Nick Nolte), a wise sagewho mysteriously appears and disappears in Dan’s life – and whose presence makesall the difference.
Dubbed "Socarates" by Dan, the attendent acts as a mirror so Dan can seehimself more clearly.
Dan: "I know more than you think."
Socrates: "And you think more than you know. But knowledge is not thesame as wisdom."
Dan: "Yeah? What’s the difference?"
Socrates: "You know how to clean a windshield, right?"
Socrates: "Wisdom is doing it."
The message of Socrates is about transmuting anger, throwing away the shackles ofthe ego and finding joy in the present moment. He encourages Dan to remove his attachmentsto all of the thoughts that clutter his mind: "Take out the trash, Dan. Thetrash is anything that is keeping you from the only thing that matters – this moment…here…now."
As a result of several mystical experiences that take Dan out of "normal"reality, this headstrong young man finds himself attracted to the message of Socrates,believing that the old man has something to teach him, something that he can eventuallyuse to get ahead of the competition. It’s not until Dan is faced with a more life-threateningsituation that he truly embraces the fact that the lesson is not about learning tricksto get ahead in life, but learning ways to get more out of life.
Dan: "You’re out of your mind, you know that?"
Socrates: "It’s taken a lifetime of practice."
Both Mecholowicz, as the driven, young athlete, and Nolte, as the wise guru, performwonderfully in this film. They use facial expressions supremely well to convey whatthey are feeling when dialogue is not needed. And their humor is refreshing.
The film’s director, Victor Salva, returns to spiritual cinema for the first timein a decade after having created the emotionally charged film Powder in 1995.Having spent the past five years in the horror genre (Jeepers Creepers andJeepers Creepers II), Salva has honed his ability to create suspense. He setssuch a mood in the opening dream sequence, as well as when Dan finds himself lockedface-to-face in a symbolic battle with his ego, the part of himself that he needsto release in order to experience happiness. Salva’s use of several slow-motion sequencesto point out that there are no ordinary moments, that "there is never nothinggoing on," also is quite effective.
The choice of Salva to direct this film may be the difference between PeacefulWarrior created as a sappy, feel-good drama and Peaceful Warrior as adeeper, more challenging film that reminds us that both light and shadow make eachof us who we are.
Dan Millman’s book is filled with awakenings, realizations that we are more thanwe think we are and that we can be happy in spite of all of the chaos in our lives.It is the story of a student who finds a teacher, just when he needs him. PeacefulWarrior, the film, takes us into that life filled with uncertainty and showsus the difference between sleeping and waking up. It is a worthwhile experience anda film that needed to be made.