Free the Mind
Runs Fri., July 26–Thurs., Aug. 1 at Northwest Film Forum. Not rated. 80 minutes.
This pseudo-scientific documentary aims to explore the potential healing power of meditation. It credulously follows Dr. Richard Davidson, whom we’re told is a leading brain researcher, as he treats three subjects suffering anxiety and trauma. Two are combat veterans with PTSD, identified as Steve and Rich; the third is a kindergartner with ADHD, named Will. Directed by Phie Ambo, herself a meditation fan, Free the Mind is strongest in capturing the details of the three subjects’ everyday lives and their touching interactions with Davidson’s researchers. However sympathetic Ambo’s approach, it tips her doc’s balance away from hard science.
After establishing that our brains are complicated and mysterious (no surprise), Free the Mind tracks the seven-day meditation program intended to help Steve, Rich, and Will. Ambo uses computer graphics to help with the neuroanatomy lessons. And her handsomely shot film does draw you in: Watching the meditation and breathing exercises, I couldn’t help imitating them. And it actually feels really good.
But the meditation sessions seem too short, since most of the film is about the three participants’ mental-health conditions. For instance, one of the vets often complains about his depression and anger issues, and we genuinely care about his treatment. But the seven days fly by, and all three participants in the study turn out better. I couldn’t help asking, “That’s it?” The healing process seems a little abrupt in Ambo’s editing scheme.
Three people do not a scientific study make. Free the Mind instead raises awareness about the influence our thoughts can have on our bodies. It does more showing than explaining. Scientists will scoff, but viewers may learn a few breathing tricks to help during traffic jams or college quizzes.