Ram Dass: Fierce Grace

  • 2001
  • 1 HR 33 MIN
  • NR
  • Documentary

For those who remember the hazy 1970s, "Be Here Now" conjures up more than a bad Oasis album. It was also the name of a curious purple book, often found on the shelves of spiritual seekers, astral trippers and cosmic travelers. With its mind-bending conundrums and psychedelic artwork, Be Here Now was both a beginner's guide to Hinduism and the true story...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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For those who remember the hazy 1970s, "Be Here Now" conjures up more than a bad Oasis album. It was also the name of a curious purple book, often found on the shelves of spiritual seekers, astral trippers and cosmic travelers. With its mind-bending conundrums and psychedelic artwork, Be Here Now was both a beginner's guide to Hinduism and the true story of its author's transformation from spit-and-shine Harvard professor Dr. Richard Alpert into robed guru Baba Ram Dass. But even those who remember the heyday of Hindu chic may be surprised by Mickey Lemle's 90-minute documentary profile of Ram Dass. While Lemle covers all the biographical details that make his lifestory fascinating, the heart of the film is a touching reflection on aging, suffering and the prospect of death. The film opens with Ram Dass, now in his eighth decade, discussing the night he was "stroked" by a "fierce grace": In 1997, he suffered a debilitating stroke that left him with partial paralysis and aphasia. Despite his impaired language skills, Ram Dass is still remarkably articulate and a wonderful storyteller, and his tale is a good one. Born into a well-to-do New England Jewish family — his father was a lawyer and president of the New York-New Haven railroad — Richard Alpert's top-notch education lead him to a teaching post at Harvard, where he fell in with LSD advocate Timothy Leary. "Continuous experimentation" with the mind-altering substance got them both kicked out in 1963, and after their fabled drug-utopia experiment in Millbrook, N.Y., came to an end, Alpert's search for transcendence led to Eastern mysticism (specifically the teachings of the Maharaj-ji), a spiritual awakening and a name change: Alpert became Ram Dass, or "God Servant." Returning from India, Ram Dass found himself surrounded by fellow seekers, wrote Be Here Now and embarked on a long career as a spiritual guide. Then came that awful night in 1997, and the terrible realization that for all his rich spiritual life, Ram Dass was in no way prepared for his death. Regardless of your spiritual bent, the way Ram Dass applies the precepts of his life to an understanding of aging and death — and how he's able to help those whose lives have been changed by the death of others — is inspiring, and its power transcends the film's technical limitations.

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  • Released: 2001
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: For those who remember the hazy 1970s, "Be Here Now" conjures up more than a bad Oasis album. It was also the name of a curious purple book, often found on the shelves of spiritual seekers, astral trippers and cosmic travelers. With its mind-bending conund… (more)

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